What can you trust on the Internet? A reading list (Mozilla)

Whether we realize it or not, we’re all being manipulated on the internet. There are ways to tackle this problem -- companies can do a better job creating algorithms that don’t manipulate people for profit. And internet users can educate themselves so they are better able to recognize and avoid online manipulation.

The Many Faces Fighting Disinformation: Safeguarding Civil Society’s Role in the Response to Information Disorders (EU DisinfoLab)

As they have noted at EU DisinfoLab, disinformation has many faces (manifestations, motives, and tools). It is only logical that the response to disinformation must have many faces as well. In this project, they seek to present a panorama of the different kinds of actors responding to disinformation today – from broadcast journalists to open source investigators to election observers to technology developers. In the report that follows, they interview 14 actors from across this emerging civil society ecosystem.

Reporters: Stop calling everything ‘fake news’ (Poynter)

In a study published Aug. 15, Emily Van Duyn and Jessica Collier of the University of Texas at Austin found that, when people are exposed to tweets containing the term “fake news,” their ability to tell real from fraudulent stories decreases. Those findings were based on a Mechanical Turk survey of 299 U.S. adults between April and December 2017.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions in which they were asked to code two sets of nine tweets from “elites" based on their main topics. Then they were shown a story about Trump from a real news outlet like The New York Times or a fake one like The Seattle Tribune. The first variable was manipulated by showing some participants tweets (created by the authors) about topics like the federal budget rather than those about fake news.

Misinfo Nation: Misinformation, Democracy, and the Internet (Mozilla)

In today’s media climate, it’s becoming harder and harder to tell what’s real and what isn’t. Every day, we’re bombarded with (mis)information that’s trying to change the way we think about our government, our leaders, and even each other. But while it may seem like we’re living in a world divided, the truth is out there — and we have the ability to vote and shape our world based upon it.

Mozilla’s Ad archive API work

Mozilla and a cohort of independent researchers have detailed the key traits that make for an effective ad archive API — and more transparent elections

How Google Fights Disinformation (Google)

This document outlines our perspective on disinformation and misinformation and how we address it throughout Google. It begins with the three strategies that comprise our response across products, and an overview of our efforts beyond the scope of our products. It continues with an in-depth look at how these strategies are applied, and expanded, to Google Search, Google News, YouTube, and our advertising products.

Fake news can lead to false memories (

The research was conducted in the week preceding the 2018 referendum on legalizing abortion in Ireland, but the researchers suggest that fake news is likely to have similar effects in other political contexts, including the US presidential race in 2020.

‘Fake news’ has real effect (Boston Herald)

President Trump’s nonstop “fake news” trash-talking has taken a heavy toll on the media’s image, with less than 10 percent of Republicans saying they trust the press, according to a new survey.

While the news media feasts on the president and the tsunami of scandals around him, Trump’s war on the press remains effective as his loyal followers still have zero faith in the fourth estate.

Bridging the Gap: Rebuilding Citizen Trust in the Media (Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) & Open Society Foundations)

Media trust, credibility and echo chambers have been a key subject of discussion in 2017. We understand now how trust in media and other institutions can be destroyed. What’s not clear is how to bring it back once it’s gone.

5 lessons for reporting in the age of disinformation (First Draft News)

Agents of disinformation use anonymous online spaces to seed rumors and fabricated content, hoping to eventually reach professional news outlets. How can journalists protect themselves from being manipulated?

Facebook’s experimentation with a feed that would sideline everything but user-generated content and paid posts is threatening to separate independent journalists and civil society representatives from their audiences in Serbia.

“What is the best way to hide online content? Place it into the Explore Feed.”

This is just one of the comments shared recently on Serbian social media in response to the changes that Facebook has introduced as an experiment in Serbia and five other countries. Unlike in the rest of the world, Facebook users in the six targeted countries—Bolivia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, and Serbia—now see a feed that consists mainly of of private content shared by their friends and paid posts. News, among other content, has been relegated to a so-called “Explore Feed” (marked with a doodled rocket) in which a person can find posts from the publishers and businesses that they follow.

Prompted by global concerns around “fake news,” Singapore has joined a growing list of governments that have put forward a legislative answer.

The country’s “Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, “POFMA,” came into force in early October. Despite repeated assurances from the government, it continues to draw criticism for the implications it is having on citizens freedom of expression.

This post considers how the act originated, what it says, and what it means for media development and press freedom in Singapore and elsewhere.

Online surveillance, phishing, and content blocking is familiar territory for most journalists who uncover corruption, misuse of power, or who report on human rights abuses. Although their rights to freedom of expression and privacy online are challenged on a near-daily basis, however, few journalists are actively involved in the struggle to reclaim those rights.

Apart from the survey respondents, this research interviewed civil society leaders and experts, including Raman Jit Sing Chima of Access Now, Thenmozhi Soundararajan of Equality Labs, RDR’s Nathalie Maréchal, Victoire Rio digital rights activist, and Grant Baker of SMEX for recommendations. Here is what they suggested:

  1. Inform the account owner before disabling it. Let them respond to the complaint first, review that, and then decide. And how decisions are taken against a reported profile should be made transparent.

  2. Educate users. The media and activists need to understand, in practice, what the Facebook system considers as acceptable and what is not, and how to avoid mistakes.

  3. Digital security helplines — as currently operated by Access Now and several other organizations, and which can help take the critical cases to Facebook — is a short-term solution, though not scalable.

  4. Collaborate with local civil society to include critical actors in Facebook’s “Crosscheck” program that systematically make sure there is a human review before any sanction decision on them.

  5. Increase staff at the regional level for content moderation and to handle specified requests who speak the local language and have the appropriate cultural context. And develop mechanisms to check internal biases of local staffs.

  6. Ensure regular third-party audit of training datasets of AI to assess how the system works and where they are failing; as content moderators may install a systemic bias into the system, if their review is biased. Automated moderation needs more transparency.

  7. Facebook is not transparent around government and political actors in South Asia. Government-sponsored or political actor-driven attempts to censor people, need to be noticed. Their content operations and content governance team in the Asia Pacific require more engagement with civil society.

  8. Facebook’s business model creates incentives that are contrary to human rights and to the user’s needs. In the long-term Facebook needs to change completely and the best way to achieve that is through legislative and regulatory changes in the US.

Right to be Forgotten

The so-called “Right to be Forgotten” (RTBF) is a highly nuanced legal principle that, within the European context, enables an individual to request personally identifiable information be scrubbed from content to render it less accessible (known as “erasure”), and/or have the content removed from a search engine index (known as “delisting”). Other forms include fully removing content from the Internet. While the concept emerged out of a European legal tradition that favors the privacy of non-public individuals, in practice it has led to the censorship of information relevant to the public interest. It has endangered press freedom by leading to the removal of news articles, and it has hindered media development by erasing content from the digital public record. For more information, see the following resources related to RTBF, archives, and more:

  • Access Now Position Paper: Understanding the “Right to be Forgotten” Globally

  • Background: The Right to be Forgotten in National and Regional Contexts (IFLA)

  • EU Data Protection Law: A “Right to be Forgotten?” (UK House of Lords)

  • Europe’s top court backs Germany: Murderers have no right to be forgotten (European Centre for Press & Media Freedom – ECPMF)

  • How the “Right to be Forgotten” Challenges Journalistic Principles (PDF)

  • IFLA Statement on the Right to be Forgotten

  • Information Not Found: The “Right to be Forgotten” as an Emerging Threat to Media Freedom in the Digital Age (CIMA)

  • Media Online Archives: A Source for Historical Research or a Threat to Privacy? (Helsińska Fundacja Praw Człowieka)

  • Mission creep: The expanding scope of the “right to be forgotten” (CIMA)

  • The Internet has become the external hard drive for our memories (Scientific American)

  • The “Right to be Forgotten” and Search Engine Liability (Brussels Privacy Hub)

  • The “Right to Be Forgotten” – Negotiating Public and Private Ordering in the European Union

  • The “Right to be Forgotten” – Remembering Freedom of Expression (ARTICLE 19)

Internet Shutdowns and Network Disruptions

Network disruptions refer to any action taken to limit the ability of a user to access part of the Internet. For example, this can include blocking social media websites during an election, restrictions on over-the-top (OTT) providers like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, blocking content on grounds that it will disturb public order, or even simply the slowing of Internet speeds. More specifically, Internet shutdowns occur when a government or an Internet service provider (ISP) mandates that access to the Internet be completely blocked, often to stymie political dissent and opposition, or to quell social unrest. Access Now recorded more than 116 Internet shutdowns across at least 30 countries from the period between January 2016 and September 2017, and the number of Internet shutdowns continues to increase, often citing dubious reasons. Whether it involves blocking access at a technical level or by even physically cutting the cables that deliver the Internet, Internet shutdowns stifle free expression, cut off access to information, and costs at least US$2.4 billion in lost gross domestic product (GDP) globally. For more information, see:

  • #KeepItOn campaign (AccessNow)

  • Country Legal Frameworks Resource (GNI)

  • Dialling in the Law: A comparative assessment of jurisprudence on Internet shutdowns (APC / Cyrilla)

  • Freedom Online Coalition Joint Statement on State Sponsored Network Disruptions (FOC)

  • Internet Shutdowns (APC)

  • Internet Shutdowns: An Internet Society Public Policy Briefing (ISOC)

  • Internet shutdowns: The “new normal” in government repression? (openDemocracy)

  • Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion last year (Brookings)

  • Internet Society Perspectives on Internet Content Blocking: An Overview (ISOC)

  • ISOC Insights: Internet Shutdowns (ISOC)

  • Navitating Litigation during Internet Shutdowns in Southern Africa (MISA Zimbabwe / Southern Africa Litigation Centre)

  • Netblocks: Mapping Internet freedom (observatory)

  • Network disruptions (Global Network Initiative)

  • Of Blackouts and Bandhs: The Strategy and Structure of Disconnected Protest in India (Jan Rydzak)

  • The Rise of Internet Throttling: A Hidden Threat to Media Development (CIMA)

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