Facebook, Google and Twitter provide information to more than two billion people around the world. They used to brag about breaking walls and abolishing data control, but they are are now admitting that they have caused a big problem.
The American authorities are now convinced that Facebook, Google, Twitter and other data platforms have become a menace to authorities and societies, by indirectly spreading terrorism and hatred and interfering in votes. Therefore, these companies were invited to open meetings; they were asked questions under oath, which led to shocking answers. The companies feared the accusations would turn into treason and conspiracy, if it were proven, for example, that they knew or dealt with data influencing voters’ opinions in elections, or creating internal strife.
Facebook admitted that 126 million users read and dealt with political posts that they thought were American, but turned out to be spread by an agency in St. Petersburg in Russia. These posts mainly consisted of fake news inciting discrimination against black people, immigrants, Muslims and others. Ten million users have received political ads that turned out to be paid and backed by Russia.
During the same period, Twitter admitted that it had identified 3,000 Russian accounts and more than 36,000 bots that launched 1.5 million tweets during the US presidential election campaign. As for Google, it disclosed that 5,000 ads, financed by Russia, had appeared on the search engine and it found 1,000 Russian videos with 43 hours of content on YouTube. A large amount of information showed that the three tech giants were used as a Trojan Horse for enemies of the US, without the public knowing that Russia was behind it.
The companies insisted that they were insignificant and non-discriminating platforms and not data companies, except for Google, which has wide activity in terms of data and information. They all agreed to reconsider and reinforce electronic monitoring that can sort enemies from friends and stop external ads from entering the US.
There is no doubt that Russia, which is accused of meddling in the US elections, is also a victim of US data flooding that targets and destabilizes Russian politics. Thus, we are in the middle of a huge, misleading and destructive cyber war.
This is what major countries with great orientation and education capabilities, as well as great military potential, are complaining about. What about our countries, which are facing the same problems?
America has persuaded the tech giants that the national interest is more important than their profits, and here in this region we must be equally aware of the dangers of cyber misinformation.
We are indeed facing the same problem; Qatar is using IT weapons against the countries that are against it, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain. These countries regard the practices of Qatar as a threat to their existence and stability.
In order to hinder Qatar’s capacities, the four states announced that dealing with Qatar was treason, and a crime. Over the past five months they launched a campaign to restrict Qatari media, and they won. The Qatari incitement platforms have tried to compensate by sneaking into and exploiting media markets that remained open to them, such as Kuwait. Qatar is proactive in this field, as it has always recruited human resources in the targeted countries, along with electronic armies, to spread false and inciting information.
Qatar keeps bragging about spreading the Arab Spring, when in fact it is exploiting it, in a way that serves the interests of political groups it supports, such as radical Islamist groups that work to topple or weaken regimes.
A lot of information that people receive on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and other platforms, is fabricated by people who have political goals in publishing false and inciting information. Such people should not be granted the rights of freedom of speech and expression.
Even the US, the pioneer in promoting freedom in the world, has decided to change its convictions; freedom of expression does not give any country the right to interfere in, change or influence other countries’ affairs.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published. Twitter: @aalrashed