While the US and Western countries are trying to corner Putin and his country Russia on many fronts, in that situation the Western Tech-boss Elon Musk’s social media system is facilitating Putin on his propaganda mechanism!
A study conducted by the European Commission, which oversees the European Union, has revealed that Elon Musk’s platform X (formerly known as Twitter) has played a substantial role in amplifying Russian propaganda concerning Ukraine, especially compared to the period before the conflict began. This research found that despite major social media companies, including Meta, making voluntary commitments to counter Russian disinformation, such content continued to flourish. The year-long study by the commission concluded that if the Digital Services Act, the European Union’s social media law had been in effect the previous year, allowing such disinformation and hate speech to spread unchecked would have constituted a violation.
The study also highlighted that throughout 2022, social media accounts aligned with the Kremlin significantly increased their audience and influence across Europe. Moreover, preliminary analysis suggests that the reach and impact of Kremlin-backed accounts have continued to grow in the first half of 2023, partly due to Twitter’s relaxation of safety standards. It’s important to note that the social media platform was recently rebranded as X.
EU takes a strong stance against disinformation with Digital Services Act
The European Union has adopted a considerably more assertive regulatory stance towards combatting government-backed disinformation compared to the United States. Under the recently enacted Digital Services Act, which became effective for major social media corporations on August 25th, these companies are now obligated to evaluate the risk of false information, prevent the amplification of the most egregious content through algorithms, and subject their performance to external audits. Furthermore, European sanctions against Russian state media have led platforms like YouTube to prohibit entities such as RT, the formerly prominent Russian news outlet known as Russia Today, which once boasted a significant following.
This study represents the most compelling evidence thus far that both legal mandates and voluntary efforts are falling short in addressing this issue. This revelation follows warnings in June from EU Commissioner Thierry Breton that certain entities needed to make substantial improvements to avert potentially substantial fines under the Digital Services Act. The research was carried out by Reset, a nonprofit analytical group that advocates for enhanced oversight of digital platforms. Due to limited access to company-held data, which must be made more accessible by the new law, Reset relied on publicly available information, such as the number of interactions and problematic content received from individuals not following the account that posted it.
Musk’s initiative and meta platforms struggle to counter Russian propaganda
Musk’s initiative, referred to as “X,” was not the sole entity that failed to curb the dissemination of Russian propaganda, as revealed by the study. Instagram, Telegram, and Facebook, which is owned by Meta, also came under scrutiny. The study noted that in terms of sheer numbers, pro-Kremlin accounts still manage to reach the largest audiences on Meta’s platforms.
Moreover, the audience for Kremlin-backed accounts on Telegram has more than tripled since Russia’s invasion in February 2022. The group pointed out that there was a lack of consistent enforcement of terms of service across different Central and Eastern European languages in various user notification system tests. Felix Kartte, a senior adviser at Reset, conveyed to The Washington Post that these multifarious propaganda campaigns often employed hate speech, amplified extremist content, and posed threats to national security. These actions could potentially exert influence on upcoming European elections.
Researchers uncover gaps in countering Russian social media warfare
The researchers emphasized that both the law and the social media companies were ill-prepared to engage in a comprehensive information battle, akin to the one Russia has been orchestrating through its state-owned official accounts, affiliated profiles, and other channels. Russian interests also orchestrated efforts by volunteers on Telegram channels, like Cyber Front Z, encouraging synchronized posts to manipulate algorithms that promote popular content. They employed false mass reports, alleging violations of platform rules by pro-Ukraine accounts to have them suspended, and resorted to intimidation tactics, including doxing and other threats.
One prominent technique involved propagandists initially disseminating numerous messages in unregulated spaces with lower traffic and subsequently promoting these posts by sharing links on more popular channels.
The researchers noted, “No social media platform implemented policies that comprehensively addressed all or even most Kremlin-operated accounts. Furthermore, platforms largely overlooked coordinated campaigns that spanned multiple platforms.”
Pro-Kremlin account engagement rises on Twitter as Musk eases measures
While the primary study period covered 2022, Reset discovered that the influence of pro-Kremlin accounts expanded from January to May 2023, with average engagement increasing by 22 percent across various online platforms. Notably, this surge was primarily driven by Twitter, where engagement spiked by 36 percent. Elon Musk, the CEO, had decided to relax mitigation measures on Kremlin-backed accounts, asserting that ‘all news is to some degree propaganda.
Elon Musk withdrew his social media platform from the voluntary code of conduct for countering disinformation that had been widely promoted in June 2022. Additionally, he has eased content regulations and reduced the enforcement team.