Decoder Newsletter: TikTok Saga Continues

Margaret Sessa-Hawkins | August 10, 2020

Produced by MapLight, the Decoder is a newsletter to help you track the most important news, research, and analysis of deceptive digital politics. Each week, we'll send you coverage of the webs of entities that seek to manipulate public opinion, their political spending ties, and the actors working to safeguard our democracy. Know someone who might be interested? Ask them to sign up!

  • Facebook removed a video President Trump posted Wednesday. The video, in which Trump claimed that children are ‘almost immune’ to the novel coronavirus, violated the company’s policy against spreading coronavirus misinformation. Twitter additionally froze a Trump campaign account until the same video clip was removed. This is not the first time Facebook has taken action against a Trump account (it took down a campaign ad in June for containing a Nazi-related symbol) but it is the first time it has enforced the coronavirus misinformation policy against the President. 

  • Speaking of Facebook, the company has also been facing challenges in Brazil. At the beginning of the month it put a global block on 12 accounts implicated in a fake news inquiry, a day after a Supreme Court judge fined the tech giant for not complying with a prior order to block the accounts. Initially, both Facebook and Twitter had only blocked the accounts in Brazil, which the judge ruled was not sufficient. The Senate in Brazil has also passed what has been dubbed the ‘fake news law’. Under the new legislation, social networks or messaging companies with more than two million users would need to keep records of messages passed on in bulk forwards for three months. Concerns have been expressed over how the law could affect freedom of speech and data privacy.

  • Social Media in the U.S. is losing the battle against election misinformation, a new long read from Politico contends. After speaking with more than two dozen national security policymakers, misinformation experts, hate speech researchers, fact-checking groups and tech executives, Mark Scott and Steven Overly write that Silicon Valley is simply not able to keep up with the onslaught of tactics employed by partisan activist groups as well as foreign trolls. Even more worrying, they find that false messages are frequently amplified by news outlets or politicians. Meanwhile, a new Pew study has found that Americans who get their news through social media are less knowledgeable than those who turn to traditional outlets.

  • The TikTok saga continues, with the company threatening to sue the Trump administration, after the president on Thursday ordered a sweeping if vague ban on the Chinese owners of the app, as well as another Chinese app, WeChat. The news comes while Microsoft is still in talks to buy the video sharing app. According to people familiar with the talks, the company will have 45 days to secure a deal, otherwise the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) will block any agreement. Ahead of the election, TikTok has been touting new measures that it has instituted to stop misinformation. 

  • There have been several really good explorations of the QAnon conspiracy theory recently. In The Washington Post, Isaac Stanley-Becker looks at the Trump campaign’s ties to the conspiracy theory,whose followers believe the President is battling a secret deep-state organization with ties to a child sex trafficking ring. Twitter notably cracked down on QAnon posts at the end of July, but despite that, many political candidates are still promoting the theory. In a more unconventional take on the theory, a viral post by Adrian Hon compares QAnon to Alternate Reality Games.

  • Worth a read: Wired reports on a Dutch public broadcaster that let users opt-out of data-tracking cookies, and paradoxically saw its digital advertising soar.