Meta's detection of harmful content in 2022 elections
And, the clamping down of press freedom in Egypt, Myanmar and Afghanistan
We hope you’re staying safe and healthy.
In this edition, we look at Meta’s content moderation in Kenya and the Philippines during election times. In Kenya, where polling will start next week, Meta’s hate speech detection technology failed to detect hate speech ad content in Swahili and English submitted as part of an experiment by Global Witness. Whereas in the Philippines which saw the return of the Marcos dynasty after a tumultuous election, Meta took down over 5 million posts and 15,000 accounts for violating rules on inauthentic behavior or the use of fake accounts.
There are also some grim updates on press freedom and harassment of journalists in Egypt, Myanmar and Afghanistan. While presidential pardons led to freeing of 5 journalists, 21 journalists continue to be detained in Egypt for charges such as “membership of a terrorist group” and “spreading fake news”. In Myanmar, Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota was arrested while covering a protest in Yangon for charges of breaching immigration law. And, in Afghanistan, Committee to Protect Journalists have demanded an investigation of the attack on journalist Selgay Ehsas by the Taliban. She was beaten and later forced to record a video allegedly absolving the group from the attack.
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A new investigation by Global Witness on Facebook’s hate speech detection mechanisms ahead of Kenya’s August 9 election found that the platform failed to detect hate speech ads in Swahili and English, the country’s two official languages. Twenty ads containing real-life examples of hate speech used in Kenya were submitted for approval, and all of them were approved, with one exception, where an English language ad was initially rejected for failing to comply with Facebook’s Grammar and Profanity policy.
"All hate speech examples in both languages were approved, with one exception: our English language hate speech ads were initially rejected for failing to comply with Facebook’s Grammar and Profanity policy. Facebook invited us to update the ads, and after making minor corrections they were similarly accepted. Seemingly our English ads had woken up their AI systems, but not for the reason we expected" — Global Witness
Meta provided figures for actions taken by Facebook on harmful content relating to the 2022 Philippine elections. From January 9 to May 16, 2022, the company took action on more than 5 million pieces of content for violating its violence and incitement policies on both Facebook and Instagram in the Philippines. The company removed 15,000 accounts via its automated systems for violating the platform’s rules on inauthentic behavior or the use of fake accounts.
The fake accounts were being used to inflate the distribution of election-related content including some that would use politics merely to get people’s attention. Some were not inherently political actors, and were people trying to make money by using election-related topics alongside other topics such as sports and entertainment to get people to click through links and go to their websites, potentially to sell something, Meta’s director for global threat disruption, David Agranovich explained in an online press call.
Despite series of presidential pardons, Egypt still holding 21 journalists (Reporters Without Borders)
Seven prisoners – including freelance journalist Hisham Fouad – were freed at the end of July, in the latest batch of presidential pardons since the start of the year. He was preceded by Al-Karama reporter Hossam Moanis, who was one of the more than 3,000 prisoners pardoned on 25 April.
“We hail the release of journalists and we take note of this gesture by the authorities, but the releases are being made piecemeal and are insufficient. The Egyptian authorities continue to hold around 20 journalists and seem to want to make no concessions on some of the most emblematic cases.” -- RSF’s Middle East desk
A Japanese journalist detained in Myanmar has been charged with breaching immigration law and encouraging dissent against the army, the ruling military administration said. He is the fifth foreign journalist to be arrested in Myanmar after US citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, Robert Bociaga of Poland and Yuki Kitazumi of Japan – all of whom were later freed and deported.
“The regime has declared war on journalists, and 505 (a) is its preferred charge. .. This charge against a Japanese journalist shows the regime is determined to continue stifling objective reporting, whether by local or foreign journalists.” -- Richard Horsey, the International Crisis Group
Afghan journalist Selgay Ehsas was beaten and harassed while she was walking home by men who identified themselves as “Mujahedin,” or members of the Taliban. When an audio message of her describing the incident surfaced online, Taliban members detained Ehsas’ father and uncle, and appeared at the journalist’s home, asking why she had insulted the group and questioned their authority. She was then forced to record a video message, reading from a script written by the Taliban members, that denied the group was involved in attacking her.
“Almost one year since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the cycle of threats, beatings, and intimidation of journalists continues at an alarming pace. The brutal attack on Afghan journalist Selgay Ehsas, followed by Taliban members forcing her to record a video allegedly absolving the group, shows that members of the press face giant hurdles working under Taliban rule.” — Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, from Madrid.
What’s new at Meedan
Birmingham City University along with Meedan are researching the mental health impacts for individuals exposed to video, visual and audio content depicting conflicts or violence, or other hateful content online; the extent to which they’re protected in this work; and, of course, how these issues might be mitigated. In May and June we interviewed 10 people working in these fields and presented initial findings at Global Fact 9: “the world’s largest and most impactful fact-checking summit”. We are currently seeking additional interviewees who could offer time for an interview in July 2022, so that we can develop this into a full journal article later this year. If you work in fact-checking, verification, online content moderation, archiving or journalism, independently or as part of a team within a small organisation, and could share your experiences with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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