LONDON – In Sri Lanka and Myanmar, Facebook repeatedly posts posts they warn to have contributed to the violence. In India, activists have appealed to the company against articles by political figures aimed at Muslims. And in Ethiopia, groups have begged social media to block hate speech after hundreds of people died in ethnic violence on social media.
Activists, civil society groups and journalists in Ethiopia wrote in an open letter last year: “Offline troubles rock the country fully visible online.
For years, Facebook and Twitter have largely rejected calls for the removal of hate speech or other comments made by public figures and government officials that civil society groups and activists give. that there is a risk of inciting violence. Companies stuck with policies, driven by America’s ideal of free speech, give such metrics more time to use their platforms to communicate.
But last week, Facebook and Twitter cut President Trump from their platforms for inciting violence at the US Capitol. Those decisions have angered activist and human rights groups, who are now urging companies to apply their policies equally, especially in smaller countries where media dominance.
Javier Pallero, policy director at Access Now, a human rights group involved in says: “When I see what platforms have done with Trump, I think, you should have done this before and you should do this. consistently in other countries of the world. Ethiopian letter. “Around the world, it hurts us when they decide to act.”
“Sometimes they act very late,” he added, “and sometimes they don’t act at all.”
David Kaye, a law professor and former UN supervisor for freedom of speech, said that political figures in India, the Philippines, Brazil and elsewhere deserve to be monitored for their behavior. network. However, he said actions against Mr Trump raise a difficult question about how the US internet companies’ power is applied and whether their actions represent a new precedent for strong police. over the world or not.
“The question in the future is whether this is a new kind of standard they plan to apply to leaders around the world, and they have the resources to implement it,” he said. Kaye said. “There will be a real increase in demand to do this elsewhere in the world.”
Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, is the largest social network in the world, with more than 2.7 billion monthly users; more than 90 percent of them live outside the United States. The company declined to comment, but said actions against Mr. Trump stemmed from his violation of existing rules and did not represent a new global policy.
Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, said in a recent interview with Reuters: “Our policies apply to everyone. “The policy is that you cannot incite violence, you cannot be part of inciting violence.”
Twitter, which has around 190 million daily users globally, says its rules for world leaders are not new. When considering posts that could incite violence, Twitter said the context of the events was important.
Jack Dorsey, chief executive of Twitter, said: “The offline harm caused by online speech is real, and what drives our policy and enforcement first.” post on Wednesday. However, he says, the decision “sets a precedent that I feel is dangerous: the power of an individual or a corporation over a portion of global public conversation.”
There are signs that Facebook and Twitter have started to act more assertive. After the Capitol attack, Twitter has updated its policies to say that people who repeatedly violate its rules of political content will have their account suspended permanently. Facebook took action against a number of accounts outside of the United States, including deleting accounts of a state media outlet in Iran and shutting down government-operated accounts in Uganda, where violence occurred. before the election. Facebook said the takings had nothing to do with Trump’s decision.
Many activists have pointed to Facebook because of its global influence and not applying rules consistently. They say that in many counties they lack cultural understanding to determine when posts can incite violence. They say that Facebook and other social media companies often don’t act even when they receive a warning.
In 2019 in Slovakia, Facebook did not remove the post of a member of parliament convicted by a court and stripped of his seat in the government for inciting and making racist comments. In Cambodia, Human Rights Watch said the company was slow to engage government officials in a social media campaign to defame a prominent Buddhist monk who advocates for human rights. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte used Facebook to target journalists and other critics.
After the wave of violence, Ethiopian activists contend Facebook is being used to incite violence and encourage discrimination.
Agustina Del Campo, director of the research center for freedom of expression at the University of Palermo in Buenos Aires, said: “The truth is, despite its good intentions, these companies do not guarantee application or practice. Exam to unify their rules. “And sometimes, when they try, they lack the necessary context and understanding.”
In many countries, there is a perception that Facebook is based on more of its business than on human rights. In India, home to the most Facebook users, the company has been accused of not controlling anti-Muslim content from political figures for fear of offending Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and his ruling party. .
Mishi Choudhary, a technology attorney and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center, a digital rights group in India, said: “Development in our countries is not being properly addressed. sufficiency. “Any content taken down raises the question of freedom of speech, but inciting violence or using a platform for dangerous speech is not a matter of freedom of speech, but an issue. democracy, law and order. “
But even as many activists called for Facebook and Twitter to be more proactive in protecting human rights, they expressed anger about the power companies have in controlling speech and swaying public opinion. .
Some also warned that actions against Trump would provoke a backlash, as political leaders in some countries take steps to prevent social media companies from censoring their posts. stated.
Government officials in France and Germany have raised alarms about the banning of Mr Trump’s accounts, questioning whether private companies can unilaterally silence a democratically elected leader. A draft bill is being considered for the European Union of 27 countries that will introduce new rules around the content censorship policy of the largest social networks.
Barbora Bukovská, senior director of law and policy at Article 19, a digital rights group, says the risk is particularly pronounced in countries where leaders have a history of using social media to induce divide. She said events in Washington gave Poland an incentive to draft a bill from the ruling right-wing nationalist party that would penalize social media companies for taking down content that was not clearly illegal. This may allow for more targeting of LGBTQ people.
“These decisions for Trump are the right ones, but there are bigger issues besides Trump,” Ms. Bukovská said.