Fringe groups undermine democracy via social media: Kofi Annan think-tank

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Social media has become a hotbed of extremism, used to undermine democracy, a think-tank said on Wednesday, calling for reforms to restore trust in government and banish fringe elements.

The Kofi Annan Commission on Elections and Democracy in the Digital Age said in a report that unchecked by regulators or operators, political parties, candidates, consultants, and foreign agents have used social media as a weapon.

“Disinformation has been weaponized to discredit democratic institutions, sow societal distrust, and attack political candidates,” the report said.

The think-tank outlined a long list of proposals that would place government and industry checks on social media firm and would also require them to strengthen their internal controls.

“Social media has proved a useful tool for extremist groups to send messages of hate and to incite violence,” the think-tank added, pointing to elections in the U.S., Kenya, the Philippines, and Nigeria, as examples.

Facing criticism that it is failing to combat extremism, Facebook announced steps last year to combat misinformation and voter suppression ahead of the November 2020 U.S. presidential election.

It also said it had removed a network of Russian accounts targeting U.S. voters on Instagram.

Russia has long been accused of meddling in the U.S. 2016 presidential election while the now-defunct British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica has been found by U.S. authorities to deceive consumers about the collection of Facebook data for voter profiling and targeting.

“In recent years foreign governments have used social media and the Internet to interfere in elections around the globe,” the Kofi Annan Commission report said.

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Alexander Smith)