Webcast: How Authoritarian Governments (Mis)Use Social Media
Journalist Megha Rajagopalan on Disinformation, Manipulation and Hate Speech
Our key takeaways
In the era of the Arab Spring, the common perception was that platforms such as Twitter and Facebook would have a democratizing influence and would raise voices that would otherwise be blocked by censorship. There is still some truth in this, but what has happened and what we now see in Southeast Asia is that authoritarian governments and other malicious actors have found ways to use and weaponize social media platforms in ways that benefit them. They coordinate disinformation and misuse the rules of platforms for censorship.
Strict censorship – as practiced in China – doesn’t solve the problem of misinformation. There is still a lot of misinformation on Chinese social media. The amount is simply too big to be moderate by people and – at least for the moment – algorithms are not capable of doing the job. Taking down statements which could be harmful to the government is prioritized. Misinformation can still spread and one of the biggest sources of disinformation is state media.
Companies – like Twitter and Facebook – are always one or two steps behind the people weaponizing the platforms. Hate speech on social media happens much faster than moderators can handle. The solution against misinformation and hate speech on social media is not just an increase in moderation, but also transparency: who are the moderators, which tasks are assigned to them and what algorithms are used.
Megha Rajagopalan is an international correspondent (formerly China bureau chief) with BuzzFeed News and Asia Society Asia 21 Young Leader. She has reported extensively on digital privacy, security, and the impact of social media. She reported from China for six years. She was a 2011 Fulbright fellow in Beijing, where she conducted research on the Chinese news media and was previously a research fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C..