Speaker: Content moderation is freedom of expression, not censorship Cornell Chronicle

Kate Starbird would not repeat the insulting comments she and her colleagues have received online.

Freedom of expression

His research into tracking the spread of rumors and misinformation across the Internet has made him a target for exactly the kind of false claims he documents. Its meta is now the focus of the phenomenon I study, Starbird said.

During her decade researching this topic, Starbird, an associate professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Human-Centered Design and Engineering, has witnessed the spread of unintentional misinformation and the growth of deceptive and organized disinformation campaigns that ‘have metastasized to social media platforms. . He points out that misinformation is so pervasive because it takes advantage of our commitment to free speech and is perpetuated by both the people who profit from the false claims and their unwitting followers.

Starbird shared her views April 26 in Gates Hall in the latest installment of the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Sciences Distinguished Speaker Series on Free Expression. His talk, Reflections on disinformation, democracy and free expression, was held in concert with the universities’ Freedom of Expression thematic year.

The work of Starbird and his colleagues is especially prominent during a presidential election year.

With the rise of generative AI, there has been a proliferation of deep fakes, such as voice-over ads from politicians, that have the potential to play an important role in elections, said Kavita Bala, dean of Cornell Bowers CIS , in his introductory remarks. There is great concern that the future of democracy will be derailed by these kinds of technologies, he said, so it is vital to understand the spread of true or false information.

Starbird began its work in this area by monitoring the rumors that circulated after natural disasters and crises such as the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. We began to realize that we were not just looking at accidental rumors, but widespread misinformation which was crumbling into the fabric of the Internet. , she said.

His early work showed that foreign and domestic agents were involved in disinformation campaigns. Russia’s Internet Research Agency, for example, had infiltrated both sides of political discourse before the 2016 US presidential election. Its actions served to erode public trust in institutions Americans and the shared ground necessary for a functioning democracy, he said.

As part of the 2020 Election Integrity Partnership, Starbird studied social media posts spreading misinformation about the 2020 US presidential election in an effort to combat false claims before they go viral. He found that the big lie, the idea that the presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump, was largely propagated by a small group of political operatives, including Trump himself. Meanwhile, everyday people reinforced the idea by sharing their own misconceptions of being disenfranchised.

Then, in 2022, the harassment began. Starbird and her team experienced online insults and threats, lawsuits, a congressional investigation and dozens of public records requests looking for evidence of government collaboration and social media censorship. Disinformation purveyors who profit from deceiving people were trying to discredit her and her work, and point to content moderation, information literacy efforts, and her entire field of study as censorship all the valid acts of freedom of expression.

Content moderation is a tool, but not a long-term solution, Starbird said. There is also a need to invest in local journalism, teach media literacy and provide better tools on social media platforms that make it easier to fact-check and recognize false claims, he said.

Despite the bleakness of the current social media landscape, Starbird said she is encouraged that young researchers are getting involved in this area, even in the face of online attacks.

They understand what’s at stake, Starbird said. They will not abandon their research questions or their hope that we can innovate to create social platforms that support, rather than destroy, democratic discourse.

Patricia Waldron is a staff writer at the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.

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