Fake news used to be “Bigfoot has Baby” and “Alien Probed Me.” Now it’s political propaganda, with both sides allegedly paying people to promote stories to smear their opponents. These paid social media users maintain multiple accounts, assume fake identities to attract their target audience, and forward propaganda from account to account, ensuring a wide distribution.
Facebook is fighting the tide by paying an outside party to fact-check stories. News-stories that don’t measure up will be labelled so that users are better informed. Facebook has also taken steps to block the creation of multiple fake accounts. It makes an effort to verify that users are real people and that they don’t have more than one account. Of course, there are ways to get around this, but it’s a step in the right direction when it comes to cutting down on the flood of paid propagandists.
Unfortunately, Twitter still has a long way to go. It makes no effort to fact-check information and users can maintain multiple accounts. In Twitter’s defense, it does try to stop users from using these accounts in exactly the same way. It doesn’t want you using multiple accounts to “like” the same tweet or to retweet it, because doing that falsely bumps up the numbers to make things look like they’re “trending.” But Twitter is still leaving users wide open for manipulation by paid propagandists.
There are sound business and personal reasons for having multiple Twitter accounts. You might not want your work and your personal life to overlap. But it’s in our national interest for Twitter to change the way it functions.
I recommend that Twitter:
- Automatically stamp a user’s profile with his or her country of residence. So if a person is tweeting from outside the USA, everyone knows it.
- Now, I know that someone reading this will complain that this change would pose a danger to people who are being stalked or who are using social media to facilitate resistance against unjust governments. But I’m not suggesting that Twitter provide GPS coordinates. I’m not even asking for the name of a province, state or city. I just want to know the real nationality of a person who’s trying to convince me that President-Elect Trump is guilty of corruption.
- Yes, I know that people go on vacation and work overseas. But really beside the point, isn’t it? If your profile says that you’re a “Florida Woman,” then dammit, you’d better be sending most of your tweets from the USA. (And personally, I can’t wait to see the hilarious rom-com sure to come out if my recommendation’s implemented, about the two best friends who get caught sunning on a beach in Jamaica when they’re supposed to be at a business conference in Duluth.)
- Stamp an advisory label on duplicate tweets: A user sending the exact same text to one user after the other is doing the Twitter version of blanketing a city with leaflets. It’s clearly propaganda and Twitter shouldn’t enable it.
We’ve entered into a new age. If we’re going to maintain our autonomy, the tech giants who make millions off of us need to hold themselves accountable if they want to keep getting our money.