Are Tech Platforms Doing Enough to Combat ‘Super Disinformers’?

This is an expert from an op-ed published on TheQuint.

On 2 December, Twitter labeled multiple tweets – including one by the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT Cell Amit Malviya – which included an edited video clip from the ongoing farm law protests under its Synthetic and Manipulated Media policy.

At the time many wondered whether this marked the start of a more interventionist role by the platform in the Indian context or if this application was a one and done.

Since then, there have been at least two more instances of the application of this policy.

First, a – now deleted – tweet dated 30 August by Vivek Agnihotri was labeled (archive link) for sharing an edited clip of Joe Biden. It can certainly be debated whether this action was made in the Indian context, because of the user, or in the context of the US, because of the topic.

Second, since 10 December, a number of tweets, examples of which can be seen here and here, misrepresenting sloganeering from a 2019 gathering in America as being linked to the current protests against the farm laws, have been labeled as well. This group included a tweet by Tarek Fateh. The reactions to these actions by Twitter have themselves been polarised ranging from celebratory, ‘it is about time’, ‘too little too late’ to accusations of interference in Indian politics by a ‘foreign company’.

The Repeat Super-Disinformer

Some of the accounts affected have large follower bases and high interaction rates, giving them the ability to amplify content and narratives, thus becoming ‘superspreaders.’ A Reuters Institute study on COVID-19 misinformation found that while ‘politicians, celebrities and public figures’ made up approximately 20 percent of the false claims covered by it, these claims accounted for 80 percent of the interactions.

They are also not first time offenders, thus making them ‘repeat disinformers.’ It should be noted that these are also not the only accounts which routinely spread disinformation.

Such behaviour can be attributed, in varying degrees, to most parts of the political spectrum and therefore it is also helpful to situate such content using the framework of ‘Dangerous Speech.’

This combination creates a category of repeat super-disinformers that play an out-sized role in vitiating the information ecosystem at many levels.

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