Since 2016, at least 43 countries have proposed or implemented measures aimed at combating influence campaigns on social media. This is according to a study by the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, whose authors note that new approaches to tackling disinformation are »flourishing« as online efforts to manipulate public opinion become an increasingly »pressing policy concern.«
The study, titled “Government Responses to Malicious Use of Social Media,” breaks down the new regulations into 10 categories: content takedowns by social media platforms, transparency of online ads, data protection, criminalization of disinformation, expanding the definition of illegal content, media literacy and watchdogs, journalistic controls, parliamentary inquiries, creation of cybersecurity units, and monitoring initiatives.
The authors, however, caution that the countermeasures adopted over the past two years are often “fragmentary, heavy-handed, and ill-equipped” to curb harmful content online. They point out that most of the government initiatives so far have focused chiefly on regulating free speech on social media rather than on addressing the deeper systemic problems that lie beneath attempts to influence public opinion online. Some authoritarian governments, they say, have also co-opted the fight against disinformation to introduce legislation aimed at tightening their grip on the digital sphere and legitimizing censorship online. Instead, the report urges policymakers to demand greater accountability and cooperation from social media platforms. The report encourages governments to shift away from the measures aimed at controlling online content and work together to “develop global standards and best practices for data protection, algorithmic transparency, and ethic product design.”