Tensions on the rise between states and big tech over 'digital sovereignty'
Also, anti-vaxxers and weapon sales accounts avoid content moderation
We hope you’re staying safe and healthy.
In this edition, we take a look at recent tensions between the governments of India and Brazil and big tech giants, and how inefficient content moderation leads to the spread of health misinformation and weapons marketplaces.
But first, we are excited to announce our new climate misinformation fund, an initiative designed to respond to the hyperlocal needs of communities and media practitioners in North Africa Western Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Asia-Pacific region. Through the Check Global Independent Media Response Fund, individuals and groups may apply for micro-grants to fund projects contributing to the fight against climate misinformation, whether by producing evidence-based stories, campaigns, knowledge and resources, or by fact-checking content being published online about climate change. You can learn more about the fund here.
In Iraq, Facebook users are exploiting the platform's lack of Arabic and Kurdish-language moderation policies in order to purchase guns online. Arabic is one of the fastest growing languages on Facebook and other platforms owned by Meta such as WhatsApp. The lack of moderation online and the platform's popularity has real-life consequences on the ground.
In Australia, a researcher asked COVID anti-vaxxers how they avoid Facebook moderation to understand the technical loopholes that allow misinformation to spread online. The techniques include creative manipulation of content to evade automated detection and moderation. Tricks such as sarcasm, intentional typos, and using screenshots instead of plain text caption make it harder for text-based algorithms to detect misinformation.
In Brazil and India, we are seeing an increase in tensions between states and platforms such as WhatsApp, especially after the recent general elections in Brazil. More publicly, the power struggle between platforms and the Indian government is visible over content moderation policies.
Also In Brazil, Researchers, professors and activists from across the country signed this week a letter in defense of digital sovereignty. The document said that Brazil cannot continue with its “technological course dictated by international consultancies linked to big tech”, which would threaten their national scientific progress and public interest.
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A researcher asked COVID anti-vaxxers how they avoid Facebook moderation. Here's what they found (The Conversation)
Facebook’s moderation approach has loopholes that anti-vaxxers continue to exploit. PhD student Damilola Ayeni from Swinburne University of Technology found anti-vax Facebook groups are now “self-moderating”. This means they predict what Facebook’s automated moderation tools and independent fact-checkers will be looking for, and change their posting techniques accordingly.
Group members share in-house “rules” to help guide content strategies. In some cases, group administrators will allow content to stay up for a short time, so there’s opportunity to see it before it’s flagged by Facebook... Content that’s likely to be targeted by fact-checkers or automated moderation is creatively manipulated. For instance, users may use screenshots or images to avoid text-based moderation. Or they may intentionally misspell key words such as “anti-vaccine”, or leave them out altogether. Satire and sarcasm are also used in an effort to misdirect Facebook’s fact-checkers, while “signalling” the poster’s vaccine beliefs to like-minded users.
In Brazil and India we are seeing an increase in tensions between platforms and states (Global Voices)
As a reaction to the platforms’ response in ramping up measures ahead of the general elections, the Brazilian government is pushing back. This is particularly strong in the case of WhatsApp.
In the case of India, misinformation is a very real concern, and time and again accounts of whistleblowers point out how powerful political parties in the country have used these platforms for their vested interests at the expense of democratic values and fundamental rights. More publicly, the power struggle between platforms and the Indian government is visible over content moderation policies.
"India and Brazil are frequently compared due to the similarities of their leaders Narendra Modi and Jair Bolsonaro's authoritarian styles of governance. What also makes these countries fit for comparison is the role that social media has played in undermining these democracies. Additionally, both countries are among the largest markets for some of the social media giants. When it comes to tech policy, it is also notable that in the two countries, over the last few years, platforms have begun taking action against this malicious use of their services by harmful and often coordinated actors; however, it is still far from enough to contain the negative impacts."
Researchers, professors and activists from across the country launched this week a letter in defense of digital sovereignty. Addressed to presidential candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, (PT) (Worker´s Party), the document says that Brazil cannot continue with its “technological course dictated by international consultancies linked to big techs”.
The message, signed by more than 90 people, criticizes the model of market concentration in which transnational giants extract sensitive data of great economic value from the Brazilian population to feed their algorithmic systems – and thus sell products in “asymmetric and abusive conditions”.
As an example, the researchers cite the case of Brazilian public universities, which meekly adopted Google Workspace for Education, a package offered by Google as “free and unlimited”, and ended up being held hostage when big tech decided to start limiting and charging for the service. For them, Brazil is in “a situation of extreme vulnerability” in relation to the security of its scientific and technological production.
Facebook users in Iraq are exploiting the platform's lack of Arabic and Kurdish-language moderation policies in order to purchase guns online, According to a recent report, the sale of weapons in Iraq is "rife" in Facebook comment sections. Social media giants have long been accused of failing to effectively moderate harmful and dangerous content, particularly in regions such as the Middle East.
Arabic is one of the fastest growing languages on Facebook and other platforms owned by Meta such as WhatsApp. The lack of moderation online and the platform's popularity has real-life consequences on the ground.
"The lack of moderation in Arabic and Kurdish has created an open gun market on Facebook in Iraq [...] It was relatively easy to find weapons for sale on comments sections of very large Facebook pages, pages with over 2 million followers" — Moustafa Ayad, the ISD Executive Director for Africa, Middle East & Asia.
What’s new at Meedan
Micro-grants will fund projects contributing to the fight against climate misinformation across four regions
Climate change is one of the most pressing concerns of the 21st century. Despite its urgency, governments will not deal productively with this issue. We consider that journalists, media practitioners, local journalism initiatives, and independent media organizations have an important role, a multifaceted one; while raising awareness about climate change and its causes, they should also enable and amplify the voices of the communities who are directly impacted by climate change.
By focusing our 2022-2023 call on this issue, we would also be contributing to setting the agenda in terms of what should be seen as an immediate call for action. Our aim is to contribute to solving global challenges, through engaging those who are the most impacted, at a hyperlocal level.