Opinion

How To Fight Online Disinformation In The Wake Of A Bitter Election

Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

Since last week’s election was called in favor of President-elect Joe Biden, social media venues have been flooded with allegations that massive vote fraud altered the outcome. President Donald Trump clings to this view, which is objectively false, and polls taken in the last few days suggest that 70% of Republicans now also hold this view. While the internet platforms did not invent this false content, it is circulating widely on their sites, and it's an important factor in undermining trust in our democracy.

The exploitation of social media to promote provably false political disinformation is not just about elections; it is a broader and growing phenomenon. It includes assertions that the Holocaust never happened, allegations that students at Parkland High School who became gun control activists were really actors, and that climate change is a liberal fantasy. It's a global trend that autocratic political leaders are exploiting to advance their agendas. Unless the platforms adjust their fundamental approach to disinformation, this trend will escalate and come to dominate political discourse to the detriment of all of our societies.

Some critics are advocating that governments utilize antitrust laws to break up these companies, in part to address this problem. Yet even if those efforts are successful, they will not alter the fact that the social media companies control access to their sites. They alone design and control the algorithms that determine what users see. They have the technical capacity to moderate the content on their sites and the resources to reduce harmful content in real time. Recognizing these factors, the social media platforms themselves need to develop a new approach to addressing provably false political disinformation, especially as it goes viral.

Read the full Forbes article.
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Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.