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Streets Ahead

Disinformation in Active Travel Part 1

Season 2, Ep. 6

Disinformation is seeping from social media into public debate, and even politicians are being sucked in - with real-world consequences for democracy. From 15-minute cities, to ULEZ, active travel has found itself on the frontline of the battle for truth - but what is actually happening, and how does it affect us?


In the first of a two-part miniseries on the topic, Adam, Ned and Laura talk to Amil Khan, founder of Valent, a company that “deals with disinformation by understanding who is behind it, what methods they use and who they seek to manipulate”. 


Amil Khan was a Reuters and BBC journalist who first encountered disinformation campaigns around the Arab Spring in the 2010s. He began investigating the topic for Chatham House and the government and, in 2020, with a government COVID loan, he founded his own company, Valent. There, he and his team investigates the mechanics of disinformation, including on social media platforms.


Amil says the company is ‘content agnostic’ - but as well as paid projects it investigates topics of interest to staff… which led to an investigation into anti-ULEZ sentiment online. What it found was one of the most advanced manipulation efforts they have seen in nearly four years of examining such activity in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. An estimated £168,000 had been spent, via ‘spreader accounts’ amplifying genuine anti-ULEZ voices. While against social media company rules, this automated manipulation happens, thanks to a number of companies selling such services under vaguely concealed euphemisms.


Amil talks us through the mechanics of dis- and misinformation online, how it happens, how to tackle it, and the consequences for active travel, and indeed democracy.


We’re on Twitter and welcome your feedback on our episode: https://twitter.com/podstreetsahead


If you're reading this, please can you take 1 minute to give us a rating and write a review? It helps us more than you probably think.


Episode edited by Clare Mansell.

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