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Social media platforms do little to combat online hate speech in the Arab world: experts
LONDON: Facebook has made many enemies lately for a platform with at least 2.91 billion “friends”, including within its own ranks.
Just this week, former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testified to members of the US Senate, providing a devastating view of how the world’s largest social networking site is putting profits above public safety.
This despite our own extensive internal research that leaked to the US media and that shows the damage that Facebook and its products are causing communities, democratic institutions and children with fragile body image worldwide.
Yet, in the Arab world, for example, very little has been done to hold Facebook and other social networking platforms accountable for the extremist ideas, bigoted views and hate speech that are being pursued despite their alleged content monitoring.
“With just a quick search in Arabic, I currently found 38 groups or pages on Facebook with over 100 followers or likes, with unmistakable references in their titles to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the most notorious example of anti-Jewish disinformation and hate speech in history “David Weinberg, Washington director of international affairs for the Anti-Defamation League, told Arab News.
Although Facebook removed millions of hate speech posts from its platforms in 2020, there is still a lot to be done, especially in languages other than English.
“Facebook didn’t fix the real problem. Instead, it created PR stunts. What Haugen said exposed all of her wrongdoing, ”Mohamad Najem, the Beirut-based executive director of SMEX, a digital rights organization focused on freedom of expression, online privacy and security, told Arab News.
“Unfortunately, all of these threats are increasing and technology companies are doing the minimum.”
Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transport Committee hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online: A Facebook Whistleblower’s Testimony” on Capitol Hill October 05, 2021 in Washington, DC. (AFP)
In response to the allegation on Friday, a Facebook spokesman told Arab News: “We do not tolerate hate speech on our platforms. Because of this, we continue to invest heavily in people, systems, and technology to find and remove this content as quickly as possible.
“We now have 40,000 people working on Facebook in security and privacy, and we’ve invested $ 13 billion since 2016. Our technology proactively identifies hate speech in over 40 languages worldwide, including Arabic.
“While we recognize that there is more to be done, we continue to make significant improvements to combat the spread of malicious content.
“As our recent Community Standards Enforcement Report showed, we are finding and removing more hate speech from our platforms than ever before: the prevalence of hate speech – the amount of content people actually see – on Facebook is now 0.05 percent of the content has been viewed and has fallen by almost 50 percent in the last three quarters. “
While Facebook has come under particular scrutiny lately, it’s not the only culprit. The perceived laxity of moderation on the Twitter microblogging site has also raised concern.
Despite the recently updated hate speech policy stating that users “must not encourage or threaten violence against other people directly on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin,” accounts that do just that are still on the platform active.
Major social media services like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were hit by a massive outage on October 4, 2021, as tracking sites showed, potentially affecting tens of millions of users. (AFP)
“For example, the top Iranian leader is allowed to use Twitter for his propaganda with a wide range of accounts, including separate special Twitter accounts, not only in Persian, Arabic and English, but also in Urdu, Spanish, French, German , Italian, Russian and Hindi, ”said Weinberg.
“Twitter also allows the accounts of major media outlets for violent extremist groups supported by Iran such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Even Facebook wasn’t that lax in general. “
Indeed, reports in the Arab world such as those of exiled Egyptian cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and terrorist-designate Qais Al-Khazali, both of whom appeared on Arab News’ Preachers of Hatred, remain active and prominent with 3.2 million followers.
In one of his hateful posts, Al-Qaradawi wrote: “Throughout history, God has placed people on them (the Jews) who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was Hitler’s. This was divine punishment for them. Next time, God willing, it will be through the hands of the faithful believers. “
Failure to consistently recognize hate speech in languages other than English seems to be a common problem on social networking sites.
As Haugen noted in her Senate evidence, Facebook has “documents showing how much operational investments have been made in different languages, and it showed a consistent pattern of underinvestment in non-English languages.”
Haugen left Facebook in May, making available to journalists and other internal corporate documents through Facebook claiming that Facebook consistently profits from security. (Getty via AFP)
As a result, extremist groups were free to take advantage of this lax approach to moderating content in other languages.
Experts agree that in the pursuit of profit, social media platforms have exacerbated social divisions, sparked hate attacks and created a global lack of trust that has resulted in an unprecedented blurring of the line between fact and fiction.
“I’ve seen Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profits and our security,” Haugen said when she testified to senators on Tuesday.
“Facebook resolved these conflicts consistently in favor of its own profit. The result was more division, more damage, more lies, more threats, and more struggle. In some cases, this dangerous online conversation has resulted in actual violence that harms and even kills people.
“As long as Facebook is operating in the shadows and hiding its research from public scrutiny, it is not accountable. As long as the incentives don’t change, Facebook won’t change. Left alone, Facebook will continue to make decisions that run counter to the common good. Our common good. “
The impact of social media companies on public attitudes and trust cannot be overstated. For example, in 2020, 79 percent of Arab youth got their news through social media, compared to just 25 percent in 2015, according to the Arab Youth Survey.
Supporters of US President Donald Trump, including Jake Angeli, a QAnon supporter known for his painted face and horned hat, protest at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. (AFP / File Photo)
Facebook and other popular Facebook-owned products like Instagram and WhatsApp, which experienced a nearly six-hour global outage on Monday, have been repeatedly linked to outbreaks of violence, from inciting racial hatred in Myanmar against Rohingya Muslims to the Capitol storms in Myanmar Washington by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump in January of this year.
The company’s own research shows that “it is easier to inspire anger than to inspire other emotions,” said Haugen in a recent CBS News interview for “60 Minutes”.
She added, “Facebook has recognized that if they change the algorithm to be more secure, people spend less time on the site, click on fewer ads, and make less money.”
Many have pledged Haugen’s courage to come forward and leak thousands of internal documents revealing the ins and outs of the company – claims Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said were “just not true.”
In the past few months, the social networking site has been fighting legal battles on several fronts. In Australia, the government has taken Facebook to court to clarify its publisher status, which would make it liable for defamation relating to content posted by third parties.
Russia, meanwhile, is trying to impose a severe fine on the social media giant equal to 5-10 percent of its annual sales in response to a series of alleged legal violations.
Although Facebook removed millions of hate speech posts from its platforms in 2020, there is still a lot to be done. (AFP / file photo)
Earlier this year, the G7 group of countries, made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, signed a tax treaty that stipulates that Facebook and other tech giants, including Amazon, must adhere to a minimum global tax of at least 15 percent.
In defense of Facebook, it must be said that its moderators face a grueling task of navigating the rules and regulations of various governments combined with the growing sophistication of online extremists.
According to Jacob Berntsson, head of policy and research at Tech Against Terrorism, an initiative to combat online extremism and protect freedom of expression, terrorist organizations have become more adept at using social networking platforms without conflicting with moderators.
“I think, to be very clear, Facebook can certainly improve their response in this area, but it is very difficult if, for example, the legal status of the group is not particularly clear,” Berntsson told Arab News.
“I think all of this shows that this is massively difficult and that content moderation on this scale is practically impossible. So there will always be mistakes. There will always be gaps. “