Aug 20, 2019

Autocracies rely on social media as a potent propaganda weapon

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Twitter and Facebook announced Monday the takedown of coordinated misinformation campaigns from the Chinese government, the latest in a list of global regimes caught using social media to exploit their own people, spread propaganda or retain power.

Why it matters: While mostly Western leaders around the globe push to hold social media companies accountable for large-scale misinformation campaigns, autocratic regimes have become increasingly reliant on social media technologies.

  • Russia: Facebook found 2 Russian-backed misinformation campaigns earlier this year targeted at users in Eastern Europe, including Russia, along with Central Asia.
  • Myanmar: Facebook admitted last year that its platform was used by Myanmar military officials to systemically target a mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.

The big picture: There was a longtime narrative that social media and cyber manipulation was caused by everyday hackers who sought to disrupt society, but increasingly, tech companies and law enforcement are finding that there are more abuse cases by governments than rogue actors.

What's next: After uncovering the Chinese efforts Monday, Twitter said it will no longer accept advertising from from "state-controlled news media entities."

Flashback: Last year, Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor at the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse, found that U.S. government-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which typically broadcasts abroad, bought ads on Facebook targeted at users in the US.

Go deeper: How online propaganda weaponized social media

Go deeper

2020 misinformation threats extend beyond Russia

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Security officials and social media giants are warning that new countries, specifically Iran and China, could pose a misinformation threat to U.S. elections in 2020 similar to Russia's interference in 2016.

Why it matters: As President Trump faces off with Iran and China on the international stage, there is growing fear they could try to influence the next U.S. election right under his nose.

Go deeperArrowSep 17, 2019

Social media platforms reveal China's disinformation reaching the West

Pro-democract protesters in Hong Kong. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

In the past week, Google, Twitter and Facebook each deactivated networks of accounts found to be waging Beijing-backed global influence campaigns — a sign that China is taking pages out of Russia's propaganda playbook.

Why it matters: These campaigns, which aim to discredit the massive protests underway in Hong Kong, show China not only censoring information domestically but increasingly promoting disinformation abroad.

Go deeperArrowAug 23, 2019

Trump allies plot new war on social media

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump's campaign and key allies plan to make allegations of bias by social media platforms a core part of their 2020 strategy, officials tell Axios. 

The big picture: Look for ads, speeches and sustained attacks on Facebook and Twitter in particular, the sources say. The irony: The social platforms are created and staffed largely by liberals — but often used most effectively in politics by conservatives, the data shows. 

Go deeperArrowSep 1, 2019