As private-sector technology platforms confront the issue of disinformation and misinformation across their services, one common strategy has been to provide users with greater access to authoritative information and contextualizing data. These strategies have, to date, included labeling content that may be misleading or harmful to users, directing users to official information sources on important topics like voting or public health, and providing researchers and civil society observers with access to tools and data to better understand the information environment across various digital services.
Facebook has implemented a number of initiatives to improve access to data and authoritative information both for users and researchers. In the context of elections, for example, the company has introduced information labels that affix to any user content referencing “ballots” or “voting” (irrespective of the content’s veracity). The labels direct users to official voting information and build on related efforts from different international contexts. For example, in Colombia during the election and peace process, Facebook created an Informed Voter button and Election Day reminders, which helped to spread credible information about the election process. In preparation for the 2019 local elections in Colombia, Facebook partnered with Colombia’s National Electoral Council (CNE) to provide credible information about voting to citizens by including a voter button and including a reminder about voting. The informed voter button, as in other contexts, redirected the user to the local election authority for voter information about where and when they could vote. Below, is an example of the voter information available on Facebook.
Facebook has also begun labeling certain state-controlled media to provide greater transparency on the sources of information on the platform. These labels currently appear on the platform’s ad libraries and on Pages and will eventually be expanded to be more widely visible. The labels build on transparency features already in operation on Facebook Pages, which include panels that provide context on how the page is being administered (including information about the users who manage the page and the countries from which they are operating), as well information about whether the page is state-controlled. It has expanded to include labels on state-sponsored media, a practice that was replicated by Twitter in August 2020 and also included political and media figures.
In response to the pandemic, in April 2020, Facebook announced that it will tell users if they have been exposed to misinformation about COVID-19 and will direct users who have engaged with the misinformation to a website by the World Health Organization that debunks COVID-19 myths. Facebook is also removing COVID-19 misinformation from the platform, based on guidance from public health authorities. Facebook created a Coronavirus Information Center, which contains information about the virus from public health officials and local leaders. Through these efforts, Facebook and Instagram have directed over 2 billion people to reliable health information. The graphic below highlights Facebook’s efforts to educate consumers about COVID-19 disinformation.
In support of research and analysis on the platform, Facebook enables greater access to data through its Crowdtangle application, which allows users to track pages and articles through a dashboard and downloadable datasets. Crowdtangle is becoming available for academics and other researchers more openly. Crowtangle also has an open plug-in for Chrome that allows users to understand the reach of articles throughout Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter.
In addition, as advertising is a common vector for the spread of political and other forms of disinformation, Facebook has expanded access to advertising information through various ads databases and archives. This includes access to the Ad Library API for researchers and those with Facebook developer accounts to study data about how ads are used in real time and to prevent misuse of the platform through targeted ads. The API allows researchers to access Facebook's dataset of content more directly through an automated system and creates a comprehensive mechanism for data collection and analysis.
As an encrypted messaging platform, WhatsApp has only limited information available to users and researchers about activities on its services. However, WhatsApp has supported access to its API in order to support certain research initiatives. The company has expanded API access through the Zendesk system––particularly for groups connected to the First Draft Coalition, such as Comprova in Brazil and CrossCheck in Nigeria. This approach has been utilized to collect data on political events, the spread of false information and hate speech, and other research goals. The International Fact-Checking Network1 has also developed a collaboration with WhatsApp that includes access to the API for certain kinds of research, including an initiative launched in 2020 to combat misinformation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Twitter has developed a number of policies, campaigns, and product features with the goal of providing users with access to credible and authoritative information. In 2020, Twitter undertook substantial efforts to provide users with access to credible information about elections, including the U.S. Presidential Election, so that users could reliably access accurate information on voting and the integrity of the election results. These efforts also included additional product features and enhancements to prevent users from sharing misleading information about voting.
Similarly, in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, Twitter made robust investments in ensuring users find reliable and credible public health information. For example, a #KnowTheFacts search prompt has been translated in multiple languages and helps users find local, credible information and links to organizations that are working to curb COVID-19 threats. The company also updated its approach to address and contextualize misleading information about COVID-19 on its platform. For instance, Twitter announced in May 2020 that the company would label misleading tweets about COVID-19 “to provide additional explanations or clarifications in situations where the risks of harm associated with a Tweet are less severe but where people may still be confused or misled by the content.” Twitter has also provided access to its API for researchers and academics to further study the public conversation surrounding COVID-19 in real time.
More broadly, Twitter has partnered with UNESCO and the OAS on guides to improve media literacy, as well as organizations around the world. Following its decision to prohibit political advertising, Twitter announced it was deprecating its Ad Transparency Center.
Below are examples of Twitter’s approach to providing credible information to users:
Colombia’s Election Management Body, the National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral or CNE), has worked with Facebook and Twitter to actively promote access to credible information about the election, monitor disinformation, and provide enhanced product features informing, reminding, and educating voters about voting. The CNE has signed MOUs with both companies and worked actively to train its officials on monitoring online platforms and reporting content. CNE also worked in coordination with the companies during the 2019 local elections to train staff on the use of Twitter tools such as Tools, Periscope, Moments, Twitter Mirror, Q&A, Tweetdeck, and other best practices. CNE also helped these platforms set up an automated account to respond to elections queries, a hashtag, and enabled communications such as live videos throughout the election process. For CNE, partnering with Facebook and Twitter has been especially important, given that disinformation affects all people, including marginalized communities such as women, LGBTQ persons, and others.
Google’s “knowledge panels” are boxes of information that appear when users search for people, places, things, and organizations that are in the “knowledge graph.” These panels automatically generate boxes of information that provide a snapshot of information on a particular topic. While knowledge panels were created to provide information and address misinformation and fake news, they have been the cause of magnifying some disinformation. Example of a knowledge panel is depicted below:
In order to provide users with accurate information, YouTube provides “Breaking News” and “Top News” features, which elevate information from verified news sources. As part of the company’s ongoing efforts, YouTube has indicated that it is expanding the use of “information panels” to provide users with additional context from fact-checkers.
Youtube has also worked to label certain content during the COVID- 19 pandemic as questionable and has taken down content that was verifiably misleading, particularly related to the Plandemic video, which went viral in March 2020 as COVID-19 began spreading rapidly.
To promote authoritative COVID-19 information in response to the spread of disinformation, TikTok has partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to create a landing page for the organization to provide accurate facts, safety information, Q&As, and informational videos about the pandemic. This partnership allows the WHO to provide information to a younger audience than many other social media platforms. TikTok’s Head of Product said this partnership has allowed the platform to act “globally and comprehensively” to provide accurate information to its users. TikTok also revised its guidelines to denounce misleading information and flag inaccurate content.
To boost authoritative COVID-19 information, Snapchat implemented filters within its platform that feature verified information on reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19. While the platform allows independent creators to make filters, it will not allow misinformation to be included in them. Snapchat also announced the launch of a health and wellness initiative in response to user concern about COVID-19. The “Here for You” tool in the search bar will allow users to access information about mental health as well as information directly from the WHO, the CDC, the Crisis Text Line, the Ad Council, and the National Health Service.
1. Interview by Daniel Arnaudo (National Democratic Institute) with Baybars Orsek, Poytner Institute. July 2, 2020.