Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Social Media in New Wartime

I have little to add. The atrocities committed by Russia are unspeakably worrying; I hope Ukrainians can find safety.

This collection of links has been helpful for me to process some of the more concerning information trends that have accelerated in the past few days.

Abbie Richards, Media Matters:

In particular, the reuseable audio feature — the backbone of TikTok, originally designed for lip-syncing and making memes — is proving to be a major source of digital misinformation in a time of conflict. Some users are putting their own videos on top of existing audios of explosions and armed conflict. Audio from a February 18 viral video (before the invasion began) containing gunfire was used in over 1,700 videos before TikTok finally removed it. Many of these videos added shaky camera footage on top of this audio to give the appearance of other videos of conflict.

[…]

Beyond the platform’s features that are allowing misrepresentation to proliferate through these videos, TikTok’s algorithm is subsequently building on users’ anxiety surrounding the conflict by surfacing old or unrelated videos on the platform’s main feed, the “For You” page. For instance, there’s a February 4 post that features footage from Almaty, Kazakhstan, and has 32.5 million views. There’s been a barrage of English-language comments on the video within the last two days indicating users think the footage is from Ukraine, even though the creator has noted the location of the footage and that it’s from January 5.

There is a surreal aspect to viewing the outbreak of war through the conveniences offered by social media, and I doubt we are ready to comprehend its consequences. A report earlier today said the invasion was detected by Google Maps’ traffic features before it was announced. I watched near-live footage of helicopters dropping flares in Snapchat’s world map feature.

Abby Ohlheiser, MIT Technology Review:

The fast-paced online coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday followed a pattern that’s become familiar in other recent crises that have unfolded around the world. Photos, videos, and other information are posted and reshared across platforms much faster than they can be verified.

The result is that falsehoods are mistaken for truth and amplified, even by well-intentioned people. This can help bad actors to terrorize innocent civilians or advance disturbing ideologies, causing real harm.

[…]

Harmful propaganda and misinformation are often inadvertently amplified as people face the firehose of breaking news and interact with viral posts about a terrible event. This guide is for those who want to avoid helping bad actors.

Everything about this is disturbing and I do not think social media companies are ready for their inevitable role of being a dumb pipe for propaganda and misinformation. One of the little ways we can all help Ukrainians for the foreseeable future is to be vigilant and avoid spreading rumours.