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NATO researchers: Social media failing to stop manipulation

SeattlePI.com Friday, 6 December 2019
LONDON (AP) — Social media companies are failing to stop manipulated activity, according to a report Friday by NATO-affiliated researchers who said they were easily able to buy tens of thousands of likes, comments and views on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

Most of the phony accounts and the activity they engaged in remained online weeks later, even after researchers at the NATO Strategic Command Centre of Excellence flagged them up as fake.

The center, an independent group based in Latvia that advises the military alliance, said the findings contrast with statements from tech companies that say they've been working harder on stamping out manipulation.

“Overall social media companies are experiencing significant challenges in countering the malicious use of their platforms," the report said.

Online manipulation emerged as a major issue for tech companies after the 2016 U.S. election, when Russian influence efforts came to light. The researchers found that most fake social media activity is bought for commercial, not political, reasons. It can include Instagram influencers trying to pump up their profiles to make more money from their brand contracts.

Fake accounts are still used for political means, though it's a minor slice of the industry and aimed at “non-western” pages, the researchers said, noting they were used to buy engagement on hundreds of political pages and dozens of government pages.

To carry out the study, the researchers turned to the "manipulation service provider" industry, which is expanding to feed the growing demand for phony clicks and likes. They used 16 companies, most based in Russia, to buy fake online engagement for 105 posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. They spent just 300 euros ($330) to purchase 3,530 comments, 25,750 likes, 20,000 views and 5,100...
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