Disinformation

Few issues are as contentious as the role and spread of "disinformation" on social media and Internet platforms.

First and foremost is the thorny question of how disinformation can best be identified and when platforms should be required to block and/or remove content. The issue touches upon core questions of free speech and political expression. And has led to a plethora of confused policies and stop-start initiatives. According to a recent "code of conduct" agreed in 2018 with platform-industry input, platforms must remove any content that "may cause public harm" or poses "threats to democratic political and policymaking processes as well as public goods such as the protection of European Union citizens’ health, the environment or security." But the same agreement excludes a ban on "misleading advertising, reporting errors, satire and parody, or clearly identified partisan news and commentary." Drawing on the complex problem of stopping the spread of inaccurate health information in a global emergency, the European Commission released tackling COVID-19 disinformation - getting the facts right, a 16-page communication proposing monthly progress reports and tougher restrictions and labelling requirements for false health information that might be circulating through encrypted messaging apps.

Given the difficulty of legislating in this area, regulators have tended to rely on "self-regulation," such as the code of practice on disinformation mentioned above. But how well are these semi-formal agreements working? Are there perhaps lessons – positive as well as negative – that could be drawn up based on the relative success or failure of these codes in practice and the real-world functioning of the Internet in an unprecedented era of democratic expression and outright disinformation?

Below we pulled together some of the best evidence on the relative spread and level of identifiable disinformation as well as the efforts to contain and remove it.

Additional information on disinformation around the world can be found on the World Intermediary Liability Map (WILMap), led by the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School.

Records 1 - 10 of 34


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Average Monthly Facebook Interactions for Prominent French News Sites and Some of The Most Popular False News Sites (2017)

This column chart from the Reuters Institute shows the average monthly Facebook interactions for several prominent French news sites and some of the most popular false French news sites, in million minutes. Notably, although the prominent news sites outperformed the false ones in reach and monthly time spent on their pages, their Facebook interactions lag behind some of the interactions achieved by the false news sites.
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Average Monthly Reach of Prominent French News Sites and Some of The Most Popular False News Sites (2017)

The graph shows that all of the false news sites in the French sample have a comparatively small reach. On average, most reached just 1% or fewer of the French online population each month in 2017. The most popular, Santé+ Magazine—an outlet that has been shown by Les Décodeurs to publish demonstrably false health information—reached 3.1% (this equates to around 1.5 million people). This was more than double that of well-known Russian outlets like Russia Today (1.5%) and Sputnik News (1.4%), which despite their international prominence, are used only by a small minority.
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Average Monthly Reach of Prominent Italian News Sites and Some of The Most Popular False News Sites (2017)

In general, the news sites included in the sample outperformed the false news outlets with well over one million interactions per month. In addition, La Repubblica outperformed all of the news sites we considered in the sample. However, eight of the 20 false news outlets in this sample generated more interactions per month than the news website of the Italian public broadcaster, Rainews.
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Average Monthly Time Spent With Prominent French News Sites And Some of The Most Popular False News Sites (2017)

Cumulative data of total time spent with the false news outlet (per month) remains below the time spent with news. Even if people spent just under 50 million minutes per month with Le Huffington Post, this still exceeds the total time spent with all 20 false news sites from the sample.
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Average Monthly Time Spent With Prominent Italian News Sites and Some of The Most Popular False News Sites (2017)

The best performing outlet was Meteo Giornale—ostensibly a weather site, but also one that has been shown to publish false information about supposedly imminent asteroid strikes and the like. Again, this is roughly half the equivalent figure for Rainews, but very far behind the figures for La Repubblica (443.5 million minutes) and Il Corriere della Sera (296.6 million minutes).
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Average Number of Fake News Stories Shared on Facebook, by Age Group

The chart shows that Americans over 65 were more likely to share fake news to their Facebook friends, regardless of their education, ideology, and partisanship. The oldest age group was likely to share nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains on Facebook as those in the youngest age group, or about 2.3 times as many as those in the next-oldest age group. The data regarding the age group 18-29 and 30-44 are not displayed in the source, therefore the value of data in this chart are approximate, determined with pixel count.
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Average Number of Fake News Stories Shared on Facebook, by Age Group

The chart shows that that the oldest Americans, especially those over 65, were more likely to share fake news to their Facebook friends. This is true even when holding other characteristics—including education, ideology, and partisanship—constant. The coefficient on “Age over 65” implies that being in the oldest age group was associated with sharing nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains on Facebook as those in the youngest age group, or about 2.3 times as many as those in the next-oldest age group, holding the effect of ideology, education, and the total number of web links shared constant.
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Catalan Crisis - Number of Reachable Viewers

During the Catalan crisis, the Russian news sources (Russia Today and Sputnik) have reached similar level of engagement of the viewers and readers as the Spanish news sources and BBC.
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Catalan Crisis- Number of Shared Posts

Naturally, the Spanish media was the most active in terms of the number of published articles as well as the amount of online sharing. However, according to the source, Russian news media (Russia Today/Sputnik) took the fourth place.
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Distribution of Mass Media as a Source of Getting News in the Last Week

The chart presents the distribution of different mass media (television, radio, etc.) as source of news during the coronavirus lockdown. The participants in six countries have answered to the following question "Q4: Which, if any, of the following have you used in the last week as a source of news?" Television and online are the most popular way of getting news in all six countries. The figures for newspapers are lower than normal, as countries have entered lockdown, complicating print distribution and greatly reducing single copies sales.