Smaller social media firms making bigger strides in combating fake news, hate: Study

SAN FRANCISCO • Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet's YouTube made smaller strides than their social media rivals including TikTok and Reddit at battling harmful content such as hate speech and misinformation during the second half of 2020, a study has shown.

Ad agency IPG Mediabrands released its "Media Responsibility Index" on Monday, which examines how the top social media platforms performed in 10 areas including protecting children's well-being, providing more transparency for advertisers and combating misinformation and disinformation.

Mediabrands said the American Association of Advertising Agencies has adopted its 10 principles on media responsibility. Nine social media platforms agreed to take part in the new index. It said it saw improvements industry-wide from the first half of 2020.

Facebook showed improvements in clamping down on false and misleading content, such as removing pages and groups related to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

YouTube made no real changes to misinformation policies, leading to a lower score in the category. But it did focus more on efforts like improving children's well-being, which led to a bigger advancement in the category than its peers.

Short-form video app TikTok made the biggest improvements out of the nine platforms, taking steps like partnering with outside companies to protect advertisers from appearing next to unsuitable content, and giving users better control over the types of videos they see, said Mr Elijah Harris, global head of social at Mediabrands agency Reprise.

Mediabrands' previous report found ad placements on TikTok were at higher risk for so-called brand safety issues, but TikTok made improvements after "embracing our findings with open arms", Mr Harris said.

Pinterest suspends accounts that continuously spread misinformation and Reddit prioritises fact-checking for categories like election and health content, which helped both companies score the largest improvements in fighting false and misleading content.

Mediabrands chose not to compile a final ranking of the platforms against each other to avoid giving top-scoring companies a false sense that their work is done, said Mr Joshua Lowcock, chief digital officer at IPG agency UM.

In a related development, Facebook on Monday said it was ramping up efforts to stem the spread of misinformation about Covid-19.

The move includes banning groups which repeatedly spread misinformation and debunked claims about the virus and vaccines in general. A list of debunked claims about the virus or vaccines that are not welcomed at Facebook was updated with the help of the World Health Organisation.

But critics of the social media giant's handling of misinformation are not convinced. "Facebook has been promising to crack down on Covid and anti-vaxx misinformation for the past year," the non-profit Centre for Countering Digital Hate tweeted, adding: "Every time, it fails to meet these headline announcements with action."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2021, with the headline 'Smaller social media firms making bigger strides in combating fake news, hate: Study'. Subscribe