Mar 15, 2022 - Technology

Two years of information chaos

Global Twitter conversation around<br> mis- and dis-information
Data: Zignal Labs; Chart: Axios Visuals

Public awareness around misinformation and disinformation has soared over the past two years, bringing information warfare and content moderation issues to the center of public conversation.

Why it matters: "Whether they like it or not," everyday people have become "co-creators of today’s infosphere, which comes with responsibilities," said Tami Kim, assistant professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.

  • "They have to be proactive in not just seeking out the truth, but also in gathering as many perspectives as possible before forming and sharing their own.”

Details: New data from Zignal Labs, a social media analysis firm, found that conversations surrounding the topics of misinformation and disinformation began to grow significantly in 2020 and have only become more frequent.

  • In total, there have been more than 53 million mentions of misinformation and disinformation on Twitter since the start of 2019. Those mentions increased by 221% in 2020, compared to 2019.
  • The topic of mis- and disinformation started to become mainstream around the beginning of the pandemic, said Jennifer Granston, head of insights at Zignal Labs. The vaccine debate, in particular, helped fuel a new level of conversation around the impact of false information.
  • Today, the topic is a large part of all public conversations around any major news event, from COVID to elections to racial justice issues, and now Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Driving the news: The monthly volume of mis- and disinformation discussion on Twitter has recently spiked around the war in Ukraine to its second-highest level since the 2020 election.

  • Joey Schafer, a researcher at the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public, noted that world leaders have become more publicly engaged in the topic now, which could be fueling that spike.
  • "Even just focusing on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, we’ve seen a Wikipedia editor arrested for spreading anti-Russian information in Belarus, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Ukraine making pleas to tech CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg asking for Russian media to be removed from Facebook, and the White House providing informational briefings to TikTok influencers," he said.

What to watch: As the public conversation around mis- and disinformation becomes more prevalent, social media firms have been forced to act faster to address public concerns.

  • For example, most major platforms took action on Russian state media accounts within days of the war's start, while it took tech platforms many months to finally begin taking action on anti-vaccine content at the start of the pandemic.
  • Facebook didn't ban the military in Myanmar from its platform until 2021, more than two years after the UN slammed the tech giant for the role it played in spreading information used to legitimize a genocide against the Rohingya population in that country.
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