How Social Media Companies Need To Address Disinformation Globally

Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

The Internet is a force for good but also a tool that, if not properly governed, poses an existential threat to our security, prosperity, and democratic order.

By Michael Posner

Political activists and autocratic governments are misusing the Internet to distribute massive amounts of deliberately false information. This harmful content is undermining political discourse and encouraging extremism in the U.S. and elsewhere. The debate about this issue has focused disproportionately on the U.S. and Europe, and partly for this reason, the big Internet companies have dramatically underinvested in their operations in the global South.

Each of the major online platforms--Google, Facebook, and Twitter--have been bold in heralding their global growth to investors. Most of this growth is occurring in places like India, Nigeria, and Brazil.  But the companies have failed to devote proportionate resources to serving their users in these places because advertising revenues there still are relatively modest. The Internet giants are trying to have it both ways: celebrating growth, on the one hand, but failing to provide essential support and oversight, on the other.

One of the risks to which the Internet platforms should be paying more attention is political disinformation. In the last decade, three broad categories of disinformation have emerged. The first concerns governments that seek to use online disinformation as a weapon against other states. Russian interference in Europe and the United States is the prime example. Second are the cases where authoritarian governments have misused the Internet to attack their domestic political opponents or to enlist their own citizens to oppress ethnic or religious minorities.  The systematic attacks by Myanmar government leaders against members of the Rohingya Muslim community is a dramatic example. In a third category, political parties, rather than governments, are using social media accounts to promote disinformation discredit their rivals.  The flood of disinformation on WhatsApp and Facebook accounts during recent elections in Brazil and India are instructive examples.

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