Taking steps to reduce foreign social-media meddling in our elections – Neal Hartman

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman

From Huffington Post

One could almost pity the executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter as they were grilled on Capitol Hill earlier this week by senators upset about Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election, via the posting of cleverly worded propaganda ads and messages on social-media sites.

After all, how do you detect – let alone stop – a small group of determined foreign nationals manipulating and taking advantage of what’s supposed to be open, free-flowing Internet platforms idealistically designed to allow billions of people across the globe to voice their thoughts on everything from world politics to the type off pigeons in Trafalgar Square?

Of course, the Facebook, Google and Twitter executives at the Senate hearing earlier this week bowed their heads, expressed remorse and vowed to do better in combating the threat of foreign interference in our democratic elections.

But the question is: Can they do better? Is it possible? Remember: Facebook alone acknowledges that it received only about $100,000 in paid ads by those it later learned were tied to various Russian groups, but those ads were still seen by about 10 million people, according to media reports.

When you include free Facebook messages posted on bogus accounts taken out by Russians – and the corresponding “like” endorsements by almost countless readers – the number of people exposed to manipulative Russian antics ballooned to about 126 million, Facebook admits, according to media reports.

Now think about it: A swing of only 100,000 votes or less in last year’s presidential election could have put Hillary Clinton in the White House, not Donald Trump. So you get the picture: it doesn’t take much on social-media to effectively “interfere” in a presidential election.

In addition to these disturbing numbers is the fact that many of these fake ads and messages were cleverly written, deliberately appealing to the dogmatic extremes on both the left and right and their pre-conceived prejudices and notions about political issues. The goal of the Russians, it seems, was to simply stir up as much fear, anger and confusion among voters as possible.

Read the full post at Huffington Post.

Neal Hartman is a Senior Lecturer in Managerial Communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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