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How the manipulation of public opinion on social networks happens | Social networks

In Brazil and around the world, government agencies and political parties have explored social media platforms to spread sensational or false news, censor information and undermine confidence in the media, public institutions and science. which points to a study recently published by the University of Oxford, England, Challenging Truth and Trust: A Global Inventory of Organized Manipulation in Social Media. Researchers believe that, in the digital age, manipulating public opinion through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram is a dangerous threat to democracy.

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Facebook is one of the social networks where users are victims of manipulation Photo: Photo: Luciana Maline / TechTudoFacebook is one of the social networks where users are victims of manipulation Photo: Photo: Luciana Maline / TechTudo

Facebook is one of the social networks where users are victims of manipulation Photo: Photo: Luciana Maline / TechTudo

With the ability to reach large audiences with specific interests in one place, at the same time that it is possible to communicate personally with individuals, networks are proving to be very attractive means for political and social advertising. In several countries, divisive campaigns have already increased ethnic tensions, revived nationalist movements, intensified political conflict and even resulted in political crises.

In Brazil, according to the survey, the use of dishonest practices on the Internet to influence people has been happening since 2010. Fake accounts, bots, distraction messages, among other practices, were used during two presidential campaigns and the impeachment. Contracts between political parties and the companies that make these practices possible have values ??of up to R $ 10 million, as shown in the report. Find out below the main findings made by the study.

Research from the University of Oxford shows Brazil with an average capacity for disseminating information on the Internet Photo: DivulgaoResearch from the University of Oxford shows Brazil with an average capacity for disseminating information on the Internet Photo: Divulgao

Research from the University of Oxford shows Brazil with an average capacity for disseminating information on the Internet Photo: Divulgao

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1. At least 48 countries have government parties or organizations using social media to manipulate public opinion

The use of social media to subvert elections and weaken confidence in democratic institutions is a widespread phenomenon that goes beyond the malicious actions of the few. Coordinated manipulation campaigns were found and examined by the study in 48 countries, with all types of political regimes, and Brazil is among them. In the country, the practice has been detected among politicians, parties and private agents since 2010.

The research authors point out that a solid democracy requires quality journalism produced by independent vehicles, a plural climate of thoughts and the freedom to negotiate public consensus. However, powerful political agents are increasingly taking advantage of networks to corrupt the information environment and thus promote suspicion, manipulate opinions and undermine democratic processes.

2. Disinformation campaigns happen mainly during elections or crises of confidence in the government

According to the survey, electoral or referendum periods are the most favorable moments for these actions. National leaders, parties and candidates use digital advertising to influence voters and change voting results. Although the Internet has opened up new avenues for civil participation in political activities, the emergence of big data analyzes, closed algorithms and computer campaigns is making legislators around the world distressed.

Elections are critical period Photo: Divulgao / TSEElections are critical period Photo: Divulgao / TSE

Elections are critical period Photo: Divulgao / TSE

In addition, with the growing threat of fake news being real or perceived, governments are concerned and are already taking action. From 2016 to today, more than 30 countries have introduced laws to combat false news and some have directed bodies towards this task. The problem, however, is that these tools are used to stifle speeches in some cases, especially under authoritarian regimes. In this way, they end up becoming yet another way to legitimize censorship and shape public discussion.

3. In 20% of the 48 countries, apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and Wechat are used to transmit false information

Oxford University experts have identified a growth in the use of messaging applications, such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal, in disinformation campaigns. Especially in the countries of the southern hemisphere, where chat apps are a phenomenon, including Brazil. Here, WhatsApp has more than 120 million users. Today, these apps are an important means for citizens to share news and information, debate and political organization.

WhatsApp and Telegram Photo: Anna Kellen Bull / TechTudoWhatsApp and Telegram Photo: Anna Kellen Bull / TechTudo

WhatsApp and Telegram Photo: Anna Kellen Bull / TechTudo

4. Political and social advertising involves automation on networks, teams of commentators, production of fake content, harassment and creating distractions

Cyber ??troops, the term used by researchers to name campaign disseminators, employ a variety of communication strategies to conduct their operations. A notable manipulation technique is the use of paid commentators who interact with real users, whether on social networks, online forums, blogs, news sites or other platforms. The study states that governments and political organizations use the method to guide discussions in three ways:

  • spreading pre-government or pre-party propaganda;
  • attacking the opposition or mounting defamation campaigns and
  • using neutral tactics that involve diverting the conversation from relevant issues.

Another strategy is to use trolls that harass specific people, communities or entities, with audio speeches and other types of virtual harassment. State-sponsored actions of the kind were found in 27 countries, whose targets were political dissidents, opposition members and journalists.

All of this work is carried out by cyber troops with fake accounts, who also work in the creation and proliferation of sensationalist materials and other manufactured content. Fake profiles can be automated, operated by real people or hybrids. Automated ones, known as bots, are programmed to mimic human behavior. While others are managed by coordinated teams, in which each operator is responsible for dozens or even hundreds of accounts.

Fake Twitter profiles are bots that help spread false information Photo: Reproduction / Carolina OchsendorfFake Twitter profiles are bots that help spread false information Photo: Reproduction / Carolina Ochsendorf

Fake Twitter profiles are bots that help spread false information Photo: Reproduction / Carolina Ochsendorf

Among the techniques for manipulating fake accounts is astroturf, when a false sense of popularity or support is generated through likes and sharing of stories. Disinformation agents create their own material: fake videos, memes, blogs, images and news sites. This content becomes a significant source of fake news and conspiratorial or polarizing information, which is disseminated and gains very wide dimensions. Strategies also include dropping legitimate content and accounts. Therefore, in addition to amplifying certain messages, cyber troops also suppress real voices on the Internet.

In the case of Brazil, almost all the practices mentioned were detected. We have fake human, automated and hybrid accounts in the country, content creation, astroturf, pre-government and party messages, opposing attacks, harassment and distracting messages. According to the researchers' report, there is evidence of professional bots and trolls used aggressively to stifle minority and dissenting opinions during two presidential campaigns, the impeachment and the election for the City of Rio de Janeiro.

5. Since 2010, parties and governments have spent more than half a billion dollars in manipulation via social media

The investment of manipulation campaigns on the web is high, in the tens of millions of dollars. Organizations behind cyber troops often spend on hiring political communications firms specializing in data-driven segmentation. While there are many legitimate companies that help political parties to identify new constituencies and adapt advertisements to a base, there is a growing market for companies that use dishonest strategies to shape discussions, provoke extremist opinions and influence political agendas.

In terms of size, the teams that run social media campaigns vary widely. sometimes they are small and short-lived; Sometimes they employ hundreds or thousands of individuals. Budgets, methods and skills are also diverse. British research made a classification of the countries studied, according to the capacity of each country. At the top of the ranking, with high network manipulation capacity, are countries like China, Russia and the United States.

The Brazilian teams were considered to be of average capacity. They have consistent form and techniques, involve full-time employees and use a variety of tools, platforms and strategies. There are contracts with values ??ranging from R $ 24 thousand to R $ 10 million.

See the complete study on the Oxford University.