NEW YORK: Social media platforms, already under pressure to tackle the issue of fake news, are facing a new wave of anger as trending algorithms surfaced conspiracy theories about the Parkland school shooting where 17 students were killed last week.
“The ‘trending’ designation is a worthless metric,” said Select All. Not only do algorithms exercise no judgement – making them eminently gameable – but when they tell users “this is already being shared a lot”, there is no indication of what “a lot” actually means.
Wired was in agreement. “The system is broken,” it stated. “It directly contributes to the spread of fake information that has plagued social media platforms for years. So why not scrap it?”
The reason for not doing so appears, inevitably, to be money, as the platforms seek to surface what should be newsworthy and relevant content from oceans of information and so keep people engaged for longer.
The New York Times described how Twitter accounts suspected of having links to Russia addressed news of the Parkland shooting with hundreds of posts within an hour of it happening, with the aim of stoking divisions over gun control.
A day later these bots had moved on to promoting the “false flag” idea that the shooting had never happened.
YouTube explained that its system had “misclassified” a conspiracy video because it contained footage from an authoritative news source. Wired was unimpressed: “Whatever minimal nuance was needed to block the … conspiracy, algorithms lack it,” it said.
On Wednesday, when the YouTube conspiracy theory video was trending, Twitter announced moves to limit the ability of users to perform coordinated actions across multiple accounts, including Likes and Retweets.
“Applications that coordinate activity across multiple accounts to simultaneously post Tweets with a specific hashtag (e.g. in an attempt to cause that topic to trend) are prohibited,” it stated.
How effective such moves will be remains to be seen, but as Wired observed: “Hoaxers and trolls have found a way around almost every obstacle these platforms have put in their way up until now. Why should this time be any different?”
Sourced from Select All, Wired, The New York Times, Twitter; additional content by WARC staff