New AkademieNL rule: No disinformation

Administering a Mastodon server comes with challenging situations. Recently, a post got reported that was not covered by the existing rules, which results in a new rule for the AkademieNL instance: No disinformation.

New AkademieNL rule: No disinformation
Photo by visuals / Unsplash
No harmful, manipulated, or misleading information (e.g., regarding elections, public health)
New rule #6 on AkademieNL

In the run up to the European elections, I received a moderation report for a post that contained misleading polling information on the Mastodon server I am responsible for. As a result, AkademieNL now has a new server rule, as formulated above.

This blog post dives a bit into the need for this rule and how I came to it.

The reported post contained misleading election information. Specifically, it contained a poll putting far/extreme right parties at a much higher share than any of the legitimate polls I could find. This was done by altering the share of other parties (one even set to zero) and porting it over to, what I assume, were the poster's personal preferences. There was also no (valid) source for the poll.

It took me a moment to understand what was wrong about the poll, as it looked legit. Its formatting mimics a well known Dutch poll. Only when I looked at the exact results more intently, did I see it was misleading (as explained above).

I do not wish to spread misinformation, but also think it is illustrative to show them side by side. The comparison of an actual (left) and the reported false poll (right) is purely informational.

As an admin for AkademieNL, I looked at the existing server rules and they did not cover this situation. The post did not break any of the existing rules the previous admin articulated. It was not directly sexist, racist (or other -isms), violent, doxxing, or spamming. But it was at least misinformation, and disinformation if done intentially. The server rules proved incomplete and a new rule was needed.

The new rule had to be grounded in something more than this individual post, to ensure the rule was not overfitted to this specific situation. Under the European Digital Services Act, (very large) online platforms have a responsibility to tackle information with systemic risk. Article 34 covers four categories of systemic risk that must be included:

  1. illegal content
  2. negative effects for the exercise of fundamental rights
  3. negative effects on civic discourse and electoral processes, and public security
  4. negative effects in relation to gender-based violence, the protection of public health and minors and serious negative consequences to the person’s physical and mental well-being

Even though AkademieNL is not even a large online platform with "only" around 200 monthly active users, the DSA provides a good basis for adding a new rule. I condensed these four categories of systemic risk down into the rule that is now part of the server:

No harmful, manipulated, or misleading information (e.g., regarding elections, public health)
New rule #6 on AkademieNL

The reported post was removed from AkademieNL, and this post is about debriefing people on the server about this new rule. It is important that we take responsibility as a social space for misinformation, given the overconfidence we, as individuals, have regarding misinformation: we are likely to think others are susceptible to misinformation (84%), yet we are often not so concerned about our susceptibility to misinformation (16%). I encourage people on AkademieNL to report misinformation and disinformation as you see it on your feeds – this will help to strengthen the server.