Faktabaari and Check First delve into social algorithms ahead of Finnish elections

The CrossOver Finland project investigates what recommendation algorithms suggest to Finns on different social media platforms. CrossOver projects have previously been successfully implemented in Belgium and other French-speaking countries.

The aim is to build a wider “digital election watch” to protect against possible election interference and manipulation. Faktabaari and Check First are monitoring next year’s presidential and European parliamentary elections in a completely new and unique way: by monitoring social media and its recommendation algorithms.

What does it mean?

In the CrossOver Finland project, started in November, 11 monitoring tools will be taken to different parts of Finland to study how incorrect and false information is possibly spreading on eight platforms, including Google’s search recommendations, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube and Tiktok.
This process initially covers the regions of Helsinki, Turku, Tampere, Oulu, Salo, Seinäjoki, Kittilä, Kuusamo, Jyväskylä, Lappeenranta and Joensuu. The CrossOver Finland project is funded by the European Media and Information Fund (EMIF). It is a fund set up by the European University Institute (EUI) and the Portuguese Gulbenkia Foundation to finance projects that support the fight against the spread of disinformation.

In previous CrossOver projects, Check First has revealed, for instance, that when Belgian users searched for news with the search term “Xinjiang” on Google’s news service Google News, a significant part of the news presented to them was produced by operators controlled by the Chinese state. These articles were mostly positive, with little or no mention of human rights issues in the Xinjiang region. Moreover, last year, Check First found interesting observations about how the word “Nazis” was regularly popular on Belgian Twitter and what kind of content Google directed users to in searches about Donbass.

We get more and more information through social media platforms, so it is important to know what they suggest to us through recommendation algorithms. This is especially important during the elections, and it is exactly this challenge that Check First and Faktabaari are now responding to. At the same time, Faktabaari is building a “digital election monitoring service”, the operation of which is supported in the best possible way by the CrossOver Finland project. Check First and Faktabaari, together with their partners, are currently looking for volunteers living in different parts of Finland who will make the CrossOver Finland project possible by taking a small monitoring tool into their home for nine months. We encourage as many people as possible to reach out to us. The user simulating systems are free of charge and of course safe for your personal data.

“Faktabaari and Check First will publish at least two more extensive reports during the project, in which we analyze the clues we have found and delve deeper into their origins. It is not yet known what will be found out in the project, but the result may be, for example, vague recommendations on social media platforms, disinformation campaigns and or traces of information manipulation by foreign countries.The project provides valuable information about the operation of recommendation algorithms and their social effects. The project also includes the production of information literacy materials that support understanding, with the aim of increasing algorithmic literacy in particular. However, we are not sitting on all the information ourselves, but everyone else can also benefit from the project: CrossOver Finland will create an open and free user interface for everyone, the so-called dashboard, where the data we collect is transferred. This way, for example, researchers, journalists and OSINT experts can use the data obtained in the project in their own work and conduct their own investigations.”

Faktabaari’s Editor-in-Chief Pipsa Havula

CEO of Check First Guillaume Kuster explains:

“As the project’s coordinator and technical partner, Check First is excited to be able to expand CrossOver to Finland, especially due to the upcoming national and European Parliament elections. Based on previous successful implementations, CrossOver Finland is building a monitoring network in the homes of volunteer participants. The system offers real-time information about recommendation algorithms on different platforms and sheds light on the spread of disinformation and its possible effects on Finns. We are convinced that, in cooperation with Faktabaari, this project will strengthen democracy by producing detailed and accurate information. With the implementation of the Digital Services Act (DSA), CrossOver Finland aims to make platforms more responsible for the content they serve to their users, especially during elections.”

“In the future, we also hope to be able to compare the results against the reports required from platform companies within the EU.”

Mikko Salo, founding member of Faktabari and chairman of the Open Society Association

The ambitious goal of CrossOver Finland is that the manipulative behavior already observed on digital platforms could be made visible and that it could also be caught. Follow us on social media for more information about the project.

Translated from Finnish/
Based on the article by Pipsa Havula published on Faktaabari website.

Photo : tapio-haaja on Unsplash

Faktabaari and Check First delve into social algorithms ahead of Finnish elections