Naina KhedekarJul 15, 2016 16:54:53 IST
Whether it were Paris attacks, San Bernardino shootings, Burhan Wani, or the most recent Nice attacks, many have come to vent out their hatred towards terrorists and its most vocal form Islamic State on social platforms. While platforms like Twitter and Facebook are also used extend a helping hand to victims, but the same platforms are also criticised for not-so-stringent anti-terrorism policies.
The $1 billion lawsuit recently came to light, along with other lawsuits against social media and Internet companies for not being able to curb such information circulation online and propagating hatred and violence. During crisis, it is easy to report incidents on Facebook and Twitter, even before the media gets there. However, this broad reach is also leveraged for wrong reasons by malicious minds. Terrorist group al-Shabab is known to have live tweeted throughout the Nairobi mall attack in 2013, while French terror suspect reportedly streamed the attack on Facebook Live.
Let’s take a look at the anti-terrorist policies by leading social platforms Facebook and Twitter.
In a Change.org petition ( that got over 140,000 signatures) following the Paris attacks last year, Julie Guilbault had slammed Facebook for not being fast enough at taking down posts. Guilbault had said how Islamic State bot sent statement claiming responsibility every five minutes that were accompanied by links praising the suicide bombers and threatening people of consequences. Though Facebook took down the messages, the petition said it was tad too late.
Monika Bickert, Facebook's head of Global Product Policy had said, explaining the company's policy, that as soon as content is reported, it is reviewed by highly trained global team. The team looks over reports around the clock, and anti-terrorism related ones are taken on priority. Then, any person or group with a violent mission or engaged in acts of terrorism are removed. Content supporting such groups are also pulled out. Moreover, Facebook claims to take efforts to find terrorist related material and remove the associated content.
Now, we know that Facebook enables its Safety Check feature for those in affected areas and their loved ones. But, Facebook is also said to reorganise its employees and, doesn’t hesitate shifting resources in a way that it can quickly respond to any violating content on the site. But, Facebook also said that it can't take out all the content as there has to be some content to promote awareness.
In fact, in its bid to take down Islamic State related content, we have also seen it err.
In another incident, after the killing of terrorist Burhan Wani, Huma Dar, an academic associated with the University of California, Berkeley and a pro-Kashmir activist had her account allegedly banned by Facebook for showing solidarity. On confronting Facebook about the ban, the social giant told us, “Our Community Standards prohibit content that praises or supports terrorists, terrorist organisations or terrorism, and we remove it as soon as we’re made aware of it. We welcome discussion on these subjects but any terrorist content has to be clearly put in a context which condemns these organisations or their violent activities.”
It is quite likely that the message may have been flagged or reported by many, but that may not necessarily be the reason. It’s not just reports that leads to banning or pulling down content. In many cases, you may not even know the reason. Yes, Facebook can legally block content without owing you an explanation.However, Facebook users whose accounts have been blocked get the option to learn why it has been blocked with fb.me/disabled and many users have been able to restore them.
The clause that led to banning Dar’s account reads, ““We don’t allow any organisations that are engaged in the following to have a presence on Facebook: Terrorist activity, or Organised criminal activity. We also remove content that expresses support for groups that are involved in the violent or criminal behaviour mentioned above. Supporting or praising leaders of those same organisations, or condoning their violent activities, is not allowed. We welcome broad discussion and social commentary on these general subjects, but ask that people show sensitivity towards victims of violence and discrimination.”
Twitter is no different. The micro-blogging site has been adding muscle to its team working at anti-terrorism related content. Earlier this year in February, Twitter deleted 125,000 Islamic State accounts and expanded anti-terror teams to monitor extremist content. It is known to have tightened its stand against hateful and extremist content.
Twitter relies on its team that uses partly technology and partly human judgement. The team sifts through suspect accounts. Islamic State is also known to implement bots that keep churning out content. These automated accounts are caught using technologies usually used to detect spam.
Twitter lets you report a tweet by tapping on the icon ... for web and iOS, or the overflow icon on Android. Select Report and then choose 'They're being abusive or harmful'.
Twitter Rules clearly mention, "You may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism." However, it requires the team to take some tough calls, and analyse to what degree the tweet or shared content is offensive and extremist. For Twitter, it gets even trickier as the platform is known for promoting free speech and open debate. In the past, its founder has received death threats for removing Islamic State-related content.
Over the years, the social giants have been trying to ensure that life isn’t easy for Internet savvy terrorists. However, one should know that social and Internet companies are shielded by law against what a third-party posts. This brings us to crossroads for dealing with new-age problems, and a solution that still needs to be worked upon.
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