Manipulation on social media, Singapore’s ‘fake news’ law, state suppression, and the China Cables

Our personal weekly selection about journalism and innovation.

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Edited by Marco Nurra


Watch all #ijf19 sessions on-demand: media.journalismfestival.com


The not-so-simple science of social media ‘bots’. Ever since disinformation became a worldwide moral panic in 2016, one word has been thrown around with alarming regularity: bots. But are we using the term correctly?

How to spot a bot (or not). First Draft has put together a number of indicators that might suggest — but not prove — automated activity online.

Are ‘bots’ manipulating the 2020 conversation? Here’s what’s changed since 2016. People are on the lookout for bots on Twitter, but the real action – both for campaigns and information operations – is communities: “I suspect that we’ll see disinformation operations try and leverage existing communities to get their messages picked up. In the old days, someone could run an army of bots to try and get a hashtag to trend and have loads of people see it. These days it’s harder to run an army of bots,” Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at network analysis firm Graphika, told The Washington Post.

Russian trolls aren’t actually persuading Americans on Twitter, study finds. New research highlights a surprising barrier to hacking our democracy: filter bubbles.

Facebook’s only Dutch fact-checker has quit over the social network’s refusal to allow them to highlight political lies as being false. The organisation has had an uncomfortable relationship with Facebook since May, when Nu.nl labelled an advert from a Dutch politician as “unsubstantiated” – a move that was reversed by Facebook, which enforced its rules against factchecking politicians. But the “final straw”, according to the NPO programme, was when Facebook again pushed the fact-checkers to reverse rulings against the far-right Freedom party (PVV) and FvD party.

Facebook to ban two white nationalist groups after Guardian report. The social network will no longer allow Red Ice TV and Affirmative Right to use its platform, following a Guardian report on the continued presence of prominent white nationalist organizations on the site eight months after a promised ban.

Singapore invokes ‘fake news’ law for first time over Facebook post. Rights groups have raised concerns the fake news law will be used to stifle free speech and chill dissent in the city state, where the ruling party has comfortably won every election since independence in 1965.

Iranian authorities arrest journalist Mohammad Mosaed for tweets amid internet shutdown. Mosaed was arrested for posting two tweets on November 19. At the time, internet service was cut off throughout the country amid protests over high gas prices. During the internet blackout, Mosaed tweeted “Hello Free World!” and said he was using “42 different proxies” to access the internet, according to a screenshot of that post taken before his account was suspended on November 23. He also tweeted a congratulations to other Iranians who had been able to bypass the internet shutdown.

The surveillance industry is assisting state suppression. It must be stopped. “The power and reach of private spyware companies is the stuff of dystopian fiction,” writes David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression.

China’s operating manuals for mass internment and arrest by algorithm. A new leak of highly classified Chinese government documents has uncovered the operations manual for running the mass detention camps in Xinjiang and exposed the mechanics of the region’s Orwellian system of mass surveillance and “predictive policing.”

Covering China for the New York Times. Jane Perlez began reporting for The New York Times in China in late 2011. The Times named her bureau chief in Beijing in 2016. Perlez filed hundreds of stories on China’s foreign policy and led a newsroom of 25 reporters, researchers, interpreters and editors until August 2019.

TikTok reverses ban on teen who slammed China’s Muslim crackdown. The video app said it would review its policies after a 17-year-old in New Jersey who discussed Chinese detention camps was locked out of her account.

The New York Times have started a new experiment aimed at including their readers more directly in the journalistic process. “Story ideas are typically hatched in conversations between reporters and editors. We toss around ideas and launch inquiries into this or that. In California, where we have a large, devoted readership, we’re now inviting readers more directly into the story-generation process by actively soliciting their questions and then having a reporter dig into them. In a sense, readers are becoming assigning editors, although I have not ceded my job as the boss.”

Daphne Caruana Galizia: police quiz Malta PM’s ex-chief of staff. Keith Schembri, who resigned this week, is questioned over murder of investigative journalist.

What can the European Commission and state members do to promote independent professional journalism in Europe? New Reuters Institute report by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Robert Gorwa and Madeleine de Cock Buning.

Political hashtags like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter make some people doubt the stories they’re attached to. A simple hashtag intended to boost a post’s audience on social can also prime audiences to read it through an emotional, partisan lens.

Internet companies prepare to fight the ‘Deepfake’ future. Researchers are creating tools to find AI-generated fake videos before they become impossible to detect.

In the battle against deepfakes, AI is being pitted against AI. As the technology used to create convincing deepfake videos advances, researchers are turning to AI to fight the falsehoods.


The International Journalism Festival #ijf19 On-Demand


Every week, one recommendation from the extensive programme of the last edition of the International Journalism Festival.

Today we are inviting you to watch “Covering the surveillance state“. Authoritarian governments are rapidly adopting new technologies like facial recognition, internet monitoring tools and AI to surveil and control its citizenry. Many of these same digital tools also are being conscripted to manipulate and intimidate journalists. What are the ways in which governments are deploying technologies against citizens and journalists alike? How should journalists navigate this changing technological landscape? This panel will consider the current state of play and look around the corner to discuss what to expect from authoritarian governments in the near future.

(Photo via icij.org)