February 22, 2024

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A European Union study found that Musk’s changes to Twitter helped spread Russian propaganda

Elon Musk’s Twitter played a key role in allowing Russian propaganda about Ukraine to reach more people than before the war began, according to a new report. Stady It was released this week by the European Commission, the European Union’s governing body.

The research found that despite voluntary commitments to take action against Russian propaganda by the largest social media companies, including Meta, Russian disinformation against Ukraine has flourished. The commission’s year-long study concluded that allowing misinformation and hate speech to spread without borders would have violated the Digital Services Act, the EU’s social media law, had it been in force last year.

“Over the course of 2022, the audience and reach of Kremlin-aligned social media accounts increased significantly across Europe,” the study found. “Preliminary analysis suggests that the reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts increased further in the first half of 2023, driven in particular by the dismantling of safety standards on Twitter.”

The European Union has taken a much more aggressive regulatory approach to government-backed disinformation than the United States. The Digital Services Law, which came into effect for the largest social media companies on August 25, requires an assessment of the risks of false information. Prevent the worst from being augmented by algorithms and review their performance. Separately, European sanctions on Russian state media prompted YouTube and other platforms to ban the likes of RT, the Russian news outlet formerly known as Russia Today that was once one of its most followed channels.

The study is the clearest sign yet that legal and voluntary measures are not getting the job done, following June warnings from EU Commissioner Thierry Breton that Twitter, now called X, has work to do to avoid potentially huge fines under the Digital Services Act. The research was conducted by a nonprofit analysis group Re-Setwhich calls for more oversight of digital platforms.

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Without full access to the data held by the companies — data that must be made more available under the new law — the reset relied on public information, such as the number of interactions the problematic content attracted from people who did not follow the account that posted it.

The study found that Musk’s Twitter was not the only one that failed to stop the spread of Russian propaganda. Instagram and Facebook, which are owned by Meta, have also drawn criticism.

“In absolute numbers, pro-Kremlin accounts continue to reach the largest audiences on Meta platforms. Meanwhile, the audience size of Kremlin-backed accounts has more than tripled on Telegram since the Russian invasion in February 2022, the group wrote.” We found that no platform applied its terms of service consistently in repeated tests of user notification systems in multiple Central and Eastern European languages.”

Felix Carter, a senior adviser to Reset, told The Washington Post that countless propaganda campaigns used hate speech, strengthened extremists and threatened national security, which could influence next year’s European elections.

The researchers said that the law and social media companies are not equipped for a full-fledged information war of the kind that Russia is waging through official state-owned accounts, allied accounts, and others. Russian interests have also coordinated the work of volunteers on Telegram channels, such as Cyber ​​Front Z, urging them to simultaneously post manipulations that boost popular content. They have collectively reported pro-Ukrainian votes to ban them, intimidated others with threats and more.

Using one key tactic, promoters first posted several messages in unorganized spaces with less traffic, then promoted those posts with links on more popular channels.

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“no [social media] The platform introduced policies addressing all or even most accounts run by the Kremlin, they wrote. “In addition, the platforms have essentially ignored coordinated cross-platform campaigns.”

X and Meta did not respond to requests for comment.

Although the main period of the study was 2022, “the reach of pro-Kremlin accounts increased between January and May of 2023, with average engagement rising by 22 percent across online platforms,” Reset found. “However, this increased access has been largely driven by [X]Engagement increased by 36% after CEO Elon Musk decided to lift mitigation measures on Kremlin-backed accounts, arguing that “all news is propaganda to some extent.”

Musk withdrew his social media platform from a widely publicized voluntary code of conduct to combat misinformation in June 2022, relaxed content rules and reduced enforcement staff.

Under Musk’s ownership, the company dropped state media labels that linked it to RT and other Kremlin-controlled accounts. Promoters also paid for the platform’s blue verification program to make their posts more prominent.