With the UK general election weeks away, some of the biggest names in online media are going all out to make sure they can’t be linked to accusations of providing problematic content.
Since 2016’s election in America, Facebook has been at the centre of allegations that online trolls used its social network to tip the balance in favour of the divisive Donald Trump. Facebook has no desire to be seen as a political organ: its focus is to appeal to users across the full spectrum of political opinion. Getting dragged into news stories that allege it’s a tool for any party in particular can only damage its brand.
With that clearly in mind, Facebook is in the middle of a major operation, purging thousands of accounts it’s identified as not linked with genuine users and taking out adverts across the media to alert readers to the risks of false content.
The social media giant is using metrics like repeated posting of identical content, and a sudden sharp spike in messaging to identify potentially problematic accounts and remove them. This is a major step for the organisation. Previously Facebook’s official position has been to downplay its political impact, but recent reports, including an edition of the BBC’s Panorama have brought to light just how much of an effect a coordinated campaign on social media can have. Tactics identified include cloning accounts, so people see problematic content from users they believe they can trust, coordinated ‘Liking’ of posts to boost their visibility across the network, and Groups distributing inflammatory content disguised among more innocuous internet standards like pictures of pets.
Facebook is now leading the charge to be a responsible social network, not merely removing accounts that people report to them as false, but searching them out proactively, and educating people about the risks of false content across the board. Where Facebook leads, others will likely follow and we are sure to see similar campaigns across Twitter and Instagram in the weeks and months to come.
Google is another internet titan that has been embroiled in political rows recently. Reports of UK government adverts appearing alongside content categorised as ‘hate speech’ dogged the company and they were even called to account by the Guardian and the Home Office itself. We’ve covered Google’s run ins with the government previously, so click through for more details.
Since then, Google has been operating a more robust advertising policy. Adsense allows advertisers to report sites as extreme or problematic, which is a step forward for ensuring major brands are still happy to use Google without running the risk of damaging their image. Adsense is something of a blunt instrument, however: a reported violation means all of Google’s advertising is pulled for the entire site, leaving publishers in a parlous position.
Recent reviews have lead to be a better balance struck between advertisers and publishers. Adsense is now more of a surgical tool. Ads can now be removed at page, rather than site level. This means, for example, that if a comment thread becomes a host for hate speech, an advertiser can pull content from the article that inspired those comments rather than the entire site.
This gives publishers an incentive to moderate their sites effectively and will hopefully lead to improvements for all parties involved, as well as Google’s reputation. It also underlines just how powerful search and social are as tools, for anyone in digital marketing.