Study shows that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube still fail to curb the spread of manipulation on the platforms

A NATO-Linked report states that Facebook, Twitter, and Google fail to tackle the manipulations on their platforms. The findings follow a four-month experiment and a year later after the US presidential election.

The researchers at the NATO Strategic Communication Center of Excellence started this experiment and ran it for four months starting in May. This experiment took place to test the ability of these largest social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram to how efficiently they can detect malicious activities on the platforms. The researchers purchase social media engagement on 105 various posts from four different social media platforms from Manipulation Service Providers (MSPs), this company provides clients the ability to purchase clicks and inflate their presence on social networks. To purchase 3,530 comments, 25,750 likes, 20,000 views and 5,100 followers across four different social channels, it costed NATO StratCom around 300 euros. The researchers easily identified more than 18,739 accounts in total that were being used for the purchased interactions and the detection of these accounts helped the researchers to identify other inauthentic accounts or pages these accounts were interacting with.

This chart highlights how many likes, comments, views, or followers it is possible to buy for 10 Euro or 11 Dollars.

The cost of manipulation is a good indicator of how effectively social media platforms are at combating manipulation.


The result of this experiment displayed that even four weeks after the purchase, 4 in 5 of the purchased engagements were still online and three weeks after some sample of fake accounts were reported to the companies, more than 95% of these accounts were still active. These findings were released on 5th December with some selected media outlets and according to this report malicious and inauthentic content enabled by MSPs will often operate without being noticed by the social media platform authorities which means that the risk of attempts by non-government actors and ill-intentioned parties will also not be effectively detected or tackled. According to the report, social media manipulation is the new strategy used by antagonists to influence the elections and to polarize the opinions of the public as well.
"While the different social media companies each have their strengths and weaknesses, one platform performs poorly no matter the criterion—Instagram was largely unable to detect and counter any manipulation.", explained the study. Adding further, "Instagram managed to remove only 5% of bought inauthentic comments and virtually none of the inauthentic likes or views were corrected. YouTube is the only platform that succeeded in reducing manipulated view counts."
NATO StratCom discovered that majority of the interactions driven on the inauthentic accounts were usually commercial in nature and on pages which were being used for brands or businesses but along with that, the researchers also detected that the same accounts were engaging with 721 political pages which included 52 official government profiles and also accounts of two heads of state as well. During the European parliamentary elections, so many accounts were observed and detected as fraudulent and according to the experts, these trends similar to the ones seen in Europe are now being discovered in the US election where the identified fraudulent accounts are now repurposed and relocation with the purpose of the 2020 US presidential elections.

How Social Media Companies are Failing to Combat Inauthentic Behavior Online

The people behind the interactions on these accounts are still unknown and we think the owner of the pages boosted could be paying MSPs for the engagement but this activity could be driven by supporters or opponents trying to smear some politician or a political group. The heart of the growing cottage industry originating in Russia used to sell clicks, comments and inflate the engagement on various social media platforms MSPs are used and if you take a look at it, they work openly and technically are not illegal. The researchers from NATO discovered hundreds of service providers originating from Russia and their services ranged from the use of bots to view videos and retweeting posts on Twitter to direct human involvements which can remain online for years before being discovered by anyone at all.

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