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24 Okt 2023

Mona Shtaya, the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy

Concerns over tech companies' alleged role in perpetrating disparities & failure in safeguarding users in times of crisis

"Tainted Narratives: Tech Giants Harming Users in War Time", 24 October 2023

What becomes glaringly evident is the striking contrast between the extensive, stringent, and swift measures taken by social media companies to safeguard the interests of users in the Global North, in countries like the United States and Ukraine, and other countries in the Global South when political crises occur, such as Palestine, Myanmar, and Kenya.

In the wake of the events that unfolded in Israel and Palestine since October 7, the digital realm has been inundated with a deluge of disinformation, hate speech, incitement, and violent rhetoric. ...This is not a new occurrence. Human rights groups had previously called for social media platforms to protect Palestinians... In order for Palestinians, as well as social media users from the global majority more generally, to be protected from digital harm, social media companies need to take several steps in resolving the digital inequality they face.

Disinformation fanning the flames

This absence of safeguarding and proper content moderation and fact-checking is not an isolated incident limited to any one platform; rather, it is a widespread issue.

The repercussions of this hateful speech extend far beyond the confines of this region. It has contributed to the normalization of extremism and anti-Palestinian racism, but also of anti-semitism, especially in the absence of equitable international mainstream media coverage of events in this region. Additionally, it has affected communities beyond the region...

Tech companies’ contradictions: Censorship, ads, and press freedom

On the other hand, Meta has imposed stricter censorship of Palestinian content. ...Moreover, Meta has reduced the reach and viewership of Instagram stories in support of Palestine, among other content violations. The same occurred in 2021... In both instances, Meta claimed there were widespread technical glitches.

Furthermore, YouTube has allowed sponsored adverts by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs on its platform, that justify the use of violence and deadly attacks against Palestinians. This follows the Ministry of Strategic Affairs employing the same tactic... Additionally, certain social media platforms have monitored and suspended the accounts of journalists and media organizations covering and documenting events in Palestine.

Disparities in safeguarding users in times of crisis

In the midst of this current crisis, major technology companies have displayed a marked divergence from their response to protect users in the Global North. ...This glaring disparity mirrors a broader crisis of global inequality, highlighting the urgent need for more equitable digital protection measures in regions affected by events.

Unfortunately, it seems social media platforms invest resources based on their market size, not risks.

The tech companies’ layoffs in the past couple of years, particularly misinformation and safety teams, made matters worse... As such, tech companies are undermining processes of safeguarding their platforms from disinformation in times where these safeguards are desperately needed. 

....tech companies have not allocated sufficient resources to protect users or conduct in-depth research to comprehend tensions and its consequences on their platforms, which reflects a fundamental structural defect in their business models.

To safeguard users worldwide, we must, now more than ever, urgently unite our efforts with all stakeholders to increase pressure on tech companies, imploring them to invest more in protecting users from tech-related harm.

[Coverage of the allegations can be read in the following links Meta, TikTok, X Corp, and YouTube]