Many people in the US first became aware of the problem of election interference on social media when allegations emerged of Russian attempts to influence the 2016 US elections through the dissemination of “fake news” on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. But as we learn more about the phenomenon, it is becoming increasingly clear that dishonest social media campaigns are a global issue, and that many private and government actors are now routinely using disinformation campaigns to influence elections. Indeed, in Latin America, such tactics have already become a go-to strategy for many right-wing movements and governments.
Earlier this month, Buzzfeed reported on a memo written by a Facebook data scientist-turned-whistleblower that provides new details on Facebook’s haphazard approach towards identifying manipulative political campaigns on their platform. The whistleblower, Sophie Zhang, noted that when Facebook enforce its rules, it focused on “harm and priority regions like the United States and Western Europe” where political interference campaigns were most likely to spark public issues for the company. When these campaigns were spotted in smaller countries with less Western news coverage, Facebook “simply didn’t care enough to stop them.” One manager at Facebook joked to Zhang that “most of the world outside the West was effectively the Wild West with [her] as the part-time dictator.”
Originally published at https://cepr.net on October 1, 2020.