Hate speech puts social media under scrutiny: The Tribune India


Luv Puri


Journalist & Author

Billionaire Elon Musk’s decision to buy Twitter has reopened a debate about respecting freedom of expression and combating hate speech peddled via social media platforms. The problem has immense implications, especially for societies in the South, where rifts can be easily exacerbated by hate speech, even if the ruling political class is prone to abuse laws passed to combat hate speech. .

After announcing the deal to buy Twitter, Musk said, “Free speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital public square where issues vital to the future of humanity”. He further added on April 27: “By ‘freedom of speech,’ I simply mean what is within the law. I am against censorship which goes far beyond the law. If people want less freedom of speech, they will ask the government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is against the will of the people. In this regard, the two declarations must be deepened in the context of the realities, especially in the countries of the South.

One of the fears of Musk’s takeover of Twitter is that he could end the Twitter ban imposed on former President Donald Trump after the attack on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on January 6 – the US President Joe Biden called it an “insurgency”. Twitter and Facebook had suspended the accounts of Trump, who had infamously launched online hoaxes against ethnic and racial minorities for nearly a decade, in addition to being a source and amplifier of hate speech and fake news. A number of whistleblowers have recorded their testimonies of how social media companies have consistently taken actions that prove destructive to society. Frances Haugen, who worked with Facebook for two years, gave detailed presentations on various platforms and said the company is aware of how its platforms are used to spread misinformation, hate and violence. She reportedly accused the social media platform of lying about the progress it has made in tackling hate speech online.

As widely reported, the European Union (EU) is ahead of the curve in this regard and has agreed several laws to regulate the social media space with special protection for vulnerable sections of society including minorities, and also by fixing the responsibility on the social media companies. In April, the EU reportedly passed a law called the Digital Services Act, which aims to “address the societal harm of social media by forcing companies to more aggressively vet their platforms for illegal content or risk billions of dollars.” fines”. “Tech companies would be required to put in place new policies and procedures to remove flagged hate speech, terrorist propaganda and other material defined as illegal by European Union countries.”

While much of the debate over the regulation of social media companies has taken place against the backdrop of the idiosyncrasies of billionaires and the North, the South has simply been trying to catch up.

Evidence of the use of social media platforms such as Facebook in large-scale murders by stirring up passions against vulnerable minorities is well documented. Myanmar’s military’s disproportionate response to attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militants on more than 30 police stations in 2017 is a classic example of the Tatmadaw’s weaponization of Facebook to wage anti- Rohingya. At least 6,700 Rohingya, including around 730 children under five, have been killed in the violence, according to Médecins Sans Frontières. In total, more than 700,000 Rohingya had to flee from Rakhine in Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh as the army, amid a nationwide frenzy against the Rohingya, rampaged and attacked Rohingya-inhabited villages. In 2018, a fact-finding mission set up by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council found that in Myanmar, “Facebook has been a useful tool for those seeking to spread hatred , in a context where for most users, Facebook is the Internet”. .” The 440-page report compiled after 15 months of review gave detailed examples of how the Rohingya community has been demonized and recorded numerous instances “where individuals, usually human rights defenders or journalists , become the target of an online hate campaign that incites or threatens violence. ”

Due to the scarcity of resources, there is little granular research available on the impact of social media content in the Global South. Algorithmic reinforcement by social media software for greater financial rewards encourages hatred against vulnerable sections of society, especially minorities, and inculcates regressive societal values. This consequently hinders economic progress by creating a situation of turmoil. This is happening in a context where large-scale educational and economic deprivation, with deep-seated ethnic, religious, economic and social faultlines, abounds in a toxic ecosystem that can be easily exploited. Passing laws will not be enough due to poorly trained digital forensics and sometimes compromised law enforcement.

The last decade that has coincided with the tremendous global growth of social media users has brought many benefits, including enabling a faster democratic flow of information. This has had deleterious effects in the multi-religious and multi-ethnic configurations of the Global South, which highlights the need to force social media companies to ensure greater algorithmic transparency and to devote resources to creating societal awareness in order to recognize patterns of hate speech and misinformation. . Businesses need more skilled, efficient, and context-aware content moderators. Without compromising freedom of expression, safer and more secure social media platforms in the Global South require equal if not more urgency than in the Global North.

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