Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Inept Corporate Reponse to Foreign Interference Threatens US Democracy

The New York Times, along with the Washington Post, have been extensively covering Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

Unfortunately, my overall sense of the situation is that many on the right and some on the anti-Clinton left are dismissive of the reports, mocking it as either "fake news" or "redbaiting." Yet, this type of foreign interference should concern us even if it's done in favor of our preferred candidates. As some ridicule the Russia coverage now, these same folks may not find it quite so humorous if and when it's used against, say, Bernie Sanders.

In fact, we would be wise to pay attention to reports that bot activity, and foreign interference via social media, continues. It's not just a "2016" thing or an "anti-Clinton" thing.

One of the tactics that has been uncovered since the 2016 election includes the Russian creation of imposter Twitter and Facebook accounts. Via the Times:
"On Twitter, as on Facebook, Russian fingerprints are on hundreds or thousands of fake accounts that regularly posted anti-Clinton messages. Many were automated Twitter accounts, called bots, that sometimes fired off identical messages seconds apart - and in the exact alphabetical order of their made-up names, according to the FireEye researchers.
... Clinton Watts, a former F.B.I. agent who has closely tracked Russian activity online, said that Twitter and Facebook suffered from a 'bot cancer eroding trust in their platforms.'  But he added that while Facebook 'has begun cutting out the tumors by deleting false accounts and fighting fake news,' Twitter has done little and as a result, 'bots have only spread since the election.'"
I have been writing for many years about the inept corporate response to abuse and harassment on social media platforms. Regardless of the "thought" that companies actually do put into the issue, the end-user experience often makes it appear as though the platform was created by libertarian tech-bros who prioritize "free speech" over users' experience to interact with others in authentic, civil, and non-abusive ways.

Twitter and Facebook in particular offer hokey, marginally-useful advice and tools that, say, allow us to "block" abusive users but that don't ever truly penalize abusive users for their sociopathic behavior. The criteria by which people actually are penalized, for instance by being put into temporary "Twitter time-outs," appear arbitrary or dependent upon who a case is reviewed by, who the user is, who the person reporting the instance is, and how much media attention the instance might have received.

Now we're learning on a near-daily basis that this ineptitude in policing the way people used their platforms likely played a role in the electoral college win of Donald Trump. Even as many of use these flawed platforms, how long will we let them abscond responsibility? What would the economic impact be of a boycott of 1 day or 1 week? What would it take to get these companies to take these issues more seriously?

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