CEP Webinar with Dr. Hany Farid: How algorithmic amplification pushes users towards divisive content on social media platforms

(New York, N.Y. / Brussels, Belgium) – On Wednesday, June 30, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) hosted the first in a series of webinars with Dr. Hany Farid, senior advisor to CEP and professor at UC Berkeley. Dr. Farid was joined by German MEP Tiemo Wölken, the coordinator for the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) at the European Parliament, and Prabhat Agarwal, the head of the Digital Services and Platforms Unit for DG Connect at the European Commission.

The webinar explored the nature and extent of the global phenomenon of misinformation as well as the role of algorithmic amplification in promoting misinformation and divisive content online and its devastating consequences. The webinar also examined a number of technological and regulatory interventions that could potentially curb misinformation, including the upcoming EU Digital Services Act.

Dr. Hany Farid said: “Algorithmic amplification is the root cause of the unprecedented dissemination of hate speech, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and harmful content online. Platforms have learned that divisive content attracts the highest number of users and as such, the real power lies with these recommendation algorithms. Until thorough regulation is put in place, controversial content will continue to be promoted and amplified online.”

Dr. Farid also highlighted that straightforward adjustments can be made to favor trustworthy sources over divisive and harmful content. In the days leading up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, for example, Facebook changed its algorithm to promote authoritative news sources in an effort to reduce the spread of misinformation. However, Dr. Farid noted that because these changes also reduced user engagement, Facebook returned to the more divisive recommendation algorithm after the election.

David Ibsen, executive director of CEP said: “While misinformation and polarizing views have always existed, the Internet and social media have accelerated the speed and reach with which these falsities and conspiracies can spread. In fact, the business model behind social media algorithms has been designed to push forward extreme and divisive content. This is the first in a series of webinars with Dr. Hany Farid and we are looking forward to bringing you the next installment.”

To watch a recording of the webinar, please click here.

To watch Dr. Farid explain how to combat fake news, please click here.

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