Disinformation from the White House

For anybody who saw the remarkable unscheduled press conference of the new White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, it was an astonishing event and worth watching in full. Was it spontaneous and based on unfavourable reporting? Or was it a pre-planned part of the new administration’s media strategy?

The statement was a lecture to the media on inaccurate reporting. It began with the ‘deliberately false reporting’ of the removal bust of Martin Luther King from the Oval office by Zeke Miller, a Time journalist. This was not true and Miller corrected by deleting the original tweet and producing another tweet retracting it.  This is likely to be misinformation: that is misreporting due to bias/incomplete information. Miller’s explanation is that that the bust was obscured and he could not see it. His own biases made him more likely to believe that the new administration would remove it and with the low effort cost of a tweet he reported it.

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Facebook, Fake News and Verification

Facebook has a fake news problem. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as the 45th President of the United States, the social network has come under sustained criticism for failing to prevent the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Numerous articles have been written dissecting the phenomenon, the possible impact it had on the US election and what Facebook should be doing about it.

But what has been fundamentally missing from the discussion is the responsibility of users to verify the content they consume online; particularly on social media where content is shared by “trusted” friends and family. As an open source intelligence (OSINT) centre, our day-to-day work involves critically evaluating publicly available information to verify the accuracy, veracity and reliability of sources and content.  Continue reading

Iran’s Social Media Contradictions

The social media landscape in Iran is complex and contradictory. Some platforms, notably Facebook and Twitter, are banned while others, such as Facebook-owned Instagram, are not. Despite this, millions of young, tech-savvy Iranians, regularly access blocked platforms using virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers. Adding to the contradictions, Ayatollah Khamenei rails against Western decadence yet like other senior Iranian leaders, he has official pages on Instagram and on the ostensibly banned Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, young Iranians use Instagram to post content that is antithetical to the regime’s morality and social norms and native social media platforms directly imitate or clone popular platforms while having suspiciously similar lists of “rules”. What explains all these contradictions in Iranian social media and the government’s attitude to it? Continue reading

#junkiesofiggg

Here at the International Centre for Security Analysis we are interested in developments in social media and how we can understand social networks as valuable information sources. We produced a report on this topic: A Structural Analysis of Social Media Networks which is designed to be a reference guide for analysts and policy-makers. We also produced a podcast where we discussed the concepts in the report in more detail.

One of the most interesting features of social networks is their role in facilitating the emergence of communities. In the report we draw a comparison between Facebook and Reddit on the one hand and Twitter and Instagram on the other. Facebook with its group function and Reddit with its subreddits both have dedicated site structures for communities to form. In contrast, Twitter and Instagram have no formal group structures built into their sites and yet we see large, cohesive and resilient communities on those platforms. How do these communities form and how do they survive?

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