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Social media platforms need community policing to eliminate false content, misinformation experts say

Kaylee Greenlee, DCNF

Social media platforms need users to police posts with false information to restrain big tech companies from exerting authoritative control over content, according to a panel hosted by the International Fact-Checking Network on Monday.

Former President Donald Trump and some 70,000 other profiles were suspended from Twitter following the Capitol riot last month, moderator Cristina Tardáguila, the associate director of the IFCN at the Poynter Institute, said. One study found that misinformation regarding the 2020 presidential election dropped 73% after the users were deplatformed, or removed from social media websites, according to Tardáguila.

At least 50 other companies including Airbnb, Telegram and Google took actions against users associated with the Capitol riot, Tardáguila said.

Deplatforming “seems to have had a really substantial impact, [but] measuring exactly how big that impact was … is tricky,” University of Wisconsin Madison Professor Lucas Graves said. “It’s always going to depend, for one thing, on how you define misinformation.”

“I think this is the big question today — even if [deplatforming] is effective, even if you can reliably cut disinformation in half or something with a massive deplatforming campaign like this, is this the right answer?” Graves continued. “What are the risks? … Who gets to decide?”

“I’m uncomfortable giving those powers unilaterally to a handful of gigantic tech companies, as happy as I might have been to not hear from Trump for a couple of months,” Graves said.

Francisco Cruz, the director of InternetLab, said “there’s no silver bullet either in regulation or technical solution for [deplatforming].” Public oversight of content moderation, including deciding what information is harmful, would keep the companies from having too much power, according to Cruz.

Conservatives roundly criticized Twitter after the social media company purged thousands of accounts following the Capitol riot.

“The really important question is whether major political figures and other media leaders are repeating false rumors. I mean, if we want to promote accountability, that’s the level that matters more than anything,” Graves said. “We need elites to deplatform each other when something is totally ridiculous.”

Graves also noted that there needed to be clear rules and standards for monitoring content for disinformation in order to maintain consistency.

“We want to be able to know what rule was applied in each case, you want there to be some mechanism for adjudicating … somebody should have to articulate ‘okay, this is why we took this moderation step’ and there’s a channel for you to respond to that and to challenge that,” Graves added.

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