Social media’s struggle to tackle voter manipulation

Reddit is the latest platform to take action against suspicious accounts after it was revealed that leaked Brexit trade talk papers posted on the site might have been done so as part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

The papers, which included details about negotiations over the future of the NHS with the United States, have been cited as part of the General Election campaign in the UK.

It’s not just foreign interference that social media companies need to keep an eye on.

While Twitter has banned all political advertising, political parties are finding other ways to use social media platforms to influence the electorate in less than transparent ways.

Instances like: the editing of video of a Keir Starmer interview to make it look like he couldn’t answer a question about Brexit (with the edited version being widely shared on social media), and the Conservatives rebranding their press Twitter account as factcheckUK – making it seem like it was an official fact-checking service – are just two of the ways that political parties have been accused of manipulating the public.

When it analysed political campaign ads from all of the major parties, the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising found 31 examples of political parties being “indecent, dishonest or untruthful”.

Some of the examples included the Liberal Democrats publishing charts with no source data attributed, the Brexit Party stating how many Labour voters voted to leave the EU, when there’s no available data on that topic, and the Labour Party saying that a post-Brexit Trump deal would give £500m per week to drugs companies (when it’s simply on calculation based on a fairly “extreme scenario”).

Facebook has already made it clear that it won’t take down false or misleading political ads. It refused, for example, to take down a video that made Nancy Pelosi look drunk, so it’s unlikely to be concerned that political ads designed to manipulate the public are spreading on its network.

While voter manipulation by foreign governments hits the headlines and gets the attention of social media companies, domestic voter manipulation may be a bigger issue. But, for the moment, it seems like one they aren’t willing to tackle.

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