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'Critical shortcomings' on social media companies in tackling disinformation, report finds

Research undertaken on behalf of the BAI and published today analysed 47 monthly transparency reports.

SOCIAL MEDIA COMPANIES must improve procedures for monitoring online disinformation, a report commissioned by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has found. 

The EU’s self-regulatory Code of Practice on Disinformation was adopted by social media companies including Facebook, Twitter and Google in 2018.

Research undertaken on behalf of the BAI and published today analysed 47 monthly transparency reports from social media companies and identified “critical shortcomings” in implementing the Code, including a lack on standardised reporting and independent auditors. 

There has been a surge in misinformation and disinformation since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. Facebook removed 20 million pieces of content that contained misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic in April, May and June this year alone.

Today’s CovidCheck report said that in order to make the Code of Practice a more effective tool in combatting disinformation companies should provide clear policy definitions and introduce frameworks to tackle online comments containing disinformation. 

The report – drawn up by the Institute for Future Media, Democracy and Society (FuJo) at Dublin City University (DCU) – said signatories of the Code should define Key Performance Indicators for reporting on content labels, content and account removals, fact-checking and media literacy campaigns. 

A commitment should also be given to appointing an independent auditor funded and resourced by companies. 

These companies should also report on their use of automated systems used to combat disinformation and “embrace the need for transparency and data-sharing with researchers, as well as expand and improve services that allow researchers to access data,” the report said. 

Commenting on today’s report, FuJo researcher Dr Eileen Culloty said “critical shortcomings” have not been addressed since the Code was adopted in 2018.

“This includes the lack of a standardised reporting system and a lack of clarity around whether user comments, which were often found to be a source of disinformation, fell under content removal policies,” Dr Culloty said.

“The role of AI in content moderation is another area that needs to be addressed. We hope the findings and recommendations of this report contribute to the strengthening of the Code, including the development of robust procedures for reporting and monitoring.”

Deputy Chief Executive of the BAI, Celene Craig said: “The importance of social media in our information ecosystem is continuing to grow and the need for increased oversight of, and accountability by, social media platforms is now accepted.

“Legislation underpinning this is progressing at national and European levels. The BAI is playing a leading role in this process and is committed to supporting the establishment of an effective regulatory regime in Ireland that will serve the needs of Irish and European citizens.

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“The implementation of the Code is part of this process, and this experience will provide a useful reference point for future regulatory engagement with the signatories.  Work on the revised Code is underway and the BAI believes that the analysis and recommendations in CovidCheck can make a valuable contribution to this process.”

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