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4 Mar 2022

Salil Tripathi, IHRB

Crucial role of tech companies and digital media in opposing the attack on Ukraine

Tech companies have crucial responsibilities in the attack on Ukraine – misinformation, virtual warfare and arbitrating truth, 3 March 2022

Preventing Russian broadcast networks from benefiting financially from these platforms assumes that profit is driving them, when the real motive is to influence minds and conduct psychological warfare. Cutting access to the platforms would be such a step, but there, the companies are caught in a bind – for they must choose between right and wrong, between truth and falsehoods, between legitimate information and propaganda, and between sides in a conflict, when the companies want, and have, customers and staff in all parties involved in a conflict...

The trouble is, the arbiters of truth are no longer governments, nor recognized international agencies, but increasingly, private companies. And not necessarily private news media companies with expertise in reporting wars and independence in cross-checking facts and providing historic perspectives. Today it is other private companies who are key actors in the information ecosystem. Actors who don’t want to be called news organisations or publishers, and whose infrastructure enables use of the Internet to spread images and opinions widely – in some cases without editorial control, and in some cases with the intent to deceive...

Tech companies have unparalleled power in such conflicts – and with power comes responsibility. The networks tech companies have built and the software they have designed gives propaganda the wings of speed and global reach with brutal efficiency...

Some steps tech companies should implement promptly, include:

  • Recruit experts with an understanding of conflict and the law, and who can act impartially.
  • Recruit more fact-checkers and flag problematic content more prominently or develop technological solutions to make such content harder to access.
  • Apply standards consistently across conflicts.
  • Evaluate government requests to run particular networks or to take down specific content based on the human rights impact: would removing it weaken the vulnerable? Would continuing access to a contentious site exacerbate conflict?
  • Work collectively with other companies and civil society organisations to develop robust standards that can be applied evenly across the world.
  • Be transparent about decisions made and explain them clearly.
  • Establish a grievance mechanism that can deal with complaints quickly and effectively.
  • Do not remove content which has archival value, or which may be useful in future trials under international criminal law, merely to comply with the company’s own community standards. Such footage can form vital evidence in future war crimes trials.
  • Establish clear rules to remove content that indicates clear and present danger that it can cause imminent threat of violence.
  • Ensure access to those who are campaigning for peace and conflict resolution, even if they are described as anti-nationals, traitors, or ‘enemy agents’...

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