Social networks in the face of electoral disinformation

Each week, Benjamin Daubeuf, history-geography teacher at the Val-de-Seine high school in Grand-Quevilly, comments on one (or more) article from International mail in connection with the terminal and first specialty history-geography programs HGGSP. This Wednesday, the role of social networks during the American election.

How does this article fit into the program?

This press review produced by International mail the day after the US presidential election on November 3, the first year students can perfectly discuss the conclusion of theme 4 in history-geography, geopolitics and political science (HGGSP): “Information in the Internet age”.

As we know, the previous American election, in November 2016, had been marred by numerous irregularities. Social networks had notably been accused of having relayed disinformation on behalf of candidate Donald Trump. Four years later, as claimed le New York Times, this new ballot was considered a major test for the biggest social networks: “For four years the executives of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networks have been obsessed with one major goal: to avoid being held responsible for sabotaging the 2020 election in the United States, writes the daily.

Learn about networks

We must first recall this observation: today information is massively provided through the prism of social networks, especially for the youngest voters. More than 70% of them say they only get information through the Facebook or Twitter news feed. This development raises many questions which are precisely studied in this theme of HGGSP. How, for example, to verify information that is not relayed by a recognized media? How to avoid remaining in a bubble of filters, this identity confinement due to the sorting of information by algorithms?

To summarize this development, information is now fragmented and horizontal. Fragmented, because everyone only feeds their social networks by groups that are ideologically close to them. Horizontal, because public opinion claims real mistrust of traditional media and often prefers to turn to media that claim to be “alternative”, closer to the people.

It is on these two observations that President Donald Trump relied during his campaign and that he continues to do so by contesting the results which, as of November 15, had only been proclaimed by the media.

An election under surveillance

The first strategy developed by the giants of Silicon Valley was to set up “Explicit policies against premature announcements of victory”. This is to prevent a candidate from claiming victory too quickly by accompanying any hasty declaration with a warning and possibly a link redirecting to sites deemed reliable.

But the real danger of this election is rather the probable challenge of the results by the losing candidate, in this case Donald Trump. The site TechCrunch thus evokes a “Nightmarish disinformation scenario”.

However, as we know, the outgoing president inaugurated a new form of political communication, by systematically tweeting and not hesitating to disseminate infoxes (French neologism of the term “fake news”). It is estimated that the president has already tweeted 4,474 messages since 2020.

The Financial Times thus affirms that, three days after the election, a wave of disinformation aimed at the Latino community poured out on social networks. The tools put in place by Facebook or Twitter were then powerless to moderate comments made in a language other than English.

A positive assessment

Besides the warning messages that now accompany Donald Trump’s most questionable statements on social media, the real victory of social media has been to prevent a recurrence of foreign interference, as was the case during the 2016 election.

At that time, Russian sites had widely disseminated information to discredit Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. It was, for the whole world, a major awareness of the dangers that social networks pose to democracy.

As the New York Times, “Despite the frantic attempts by President Trump and his allies to undermine the legitimacy of the vote in the states where he loses, no major campaign of foreign interference has come to light this week.” It remains to assess the damage that the multiple defamatory tweets of candidate Trump and his team have caused in American public opinion. Fadi Quran, an official of the citizen movement of cybermilitants Avaaz, quoted in this press review, affirms that “These stories of disinformation plunge the country even further into chaos and confusion.”

Benjamin Daubeuf

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