Social media must clamp down on hate speech, UN rights boss says

It was now making progress, with better technology to identify hate speech and improved reporting tools. (Shutterstock)
Updated 29 August 2018
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Social media must clamp down on hate speech, UN rights boss says

  • Facebook had allowed its platform to be used to incite violence against Rohingya
  • Myanmar military officials from the social media website and an Instagram account to prevent the spread of “hate and misinformation” after reviewing the content

GENEVA: Social media, including Facebook , must proactively block content inciting hatred and prevent online campaigns which target minorities, such as those undertaken in Myanmar, the United Nations human rights chief said on Wednesday.
Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was speaking after UN experts accused Myanmar generals of “genocidal intent” and said Facebook had allowed its platform to be used to incite violence against Rohingya.
Facebook said on Monday it was removing several Myanmar military officials from the social media website and an Instagram account to prevent the spread of “hate and misinformation” after reviewing the content.
Zeid, whose spokesman said he has met with major tech companies in Silicon Valley, including Facebook and Google, in recent months, was speaking to a news conference before his four-year term ends on Aug. 31.
Zeid said he didn’t feel Facebook took the issue seriously at first but that the company’s attitude began to change after Yanghee Lee, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, told a Geneva press conference in March that Facebook was being used in the country to spread hate speech.
“But it shouldn’t be because the press or the human rights community highlights the problem for them then suddenly to respond. They should be aware of it ahead of time,” he said.
“So I don’t think they should wait until the crisis begins. They should be thinking proactively about what steps they will take to mitigate that,” he added.
Facebook said on Monday that while it was too slow to act in the case of Myanmar, it was now making progress, with better technology to identify hate speech and improved reporting tools.
However, Zeid said there was a danger that social media could be over-regulated in a way that breaches human rights law including the right to freedom of expression.
Tech giants should “keep the broadest space available and open to the exercise of freedom of expression,” relying on international human rights law for regulation, he said.
US President Donald Trump on Tuesday accused Google’s search engine of promoting negative news articles and hiding “fair media” coverage of him, vowing to address the situation without providing evidence or giving details of action he might take.
Trump’s attack against the Alphabet Inc. unit follows a string of grievances against technology companies, including Twitter Inc. and Facebook, which he has accused of silencing conservative voices.


Journalism facing its biggest threat ever in ‘fake news’ era, says prominent investigative journalist Maria Ressa

Updated 2 min 43 sec ago
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Journalism facing its biggest threat ever in ‘fake news’ era, says prominent investigative journalist Maria Ressa

LONDON: Journalists and their profession are coming under attack now more than ever, and more needs to be done to protect them, according to a prominent investigative journalist.

Speaking in London last week at the launch of the Investigative Journal, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa said the rise of technology had exacerbated attacks on media professionals, and social media had failed to take on the responsibility of journalistic integrity.

“While social media platforms have taken over and they’ve become the world’s largest distributors of news, they didn’t take over the gatekeeping powers. Journalists are the gatekeepers of facts,” she added.

The award-winning Filipina journalist said the current generation of journalists is trying to fight for facts and wrest back control of the “truth” from those with the “largest megaphone and the most power.”

Ressa added that news gathering and investigative journalism are under severe threat, not just in her own country but all over the world, in what she called a heightened era of “fake news.”

She said: “Journalism is in crisis. We’re under attack, not just as sustainable news organizations but as individual journalists, (in a sphere) where online violence and abuse can turn into real-world violence.”

Ressa added: “Online attacks against me were enabled and technology was the accelerator, and we’ve seen this in many other parts of the world.”

She founded the fake-news monitoring site Rappler in the Philippines, which partnered with the Investigative Journal and is currently facing prosecution by her country’s government.

At the London event, she announced that she had enlisted the support of human rights lawyer Amal Clooney to lead a team of international experts to fight her case against charges related to tax evasion and other accusations, all of which Ressa denies.

She has been a prominent journalist in the Philippines for three decades, and is an outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte.

She has come in for online abuse and attacks due to her covering of the brutal drug war currently being waged by Duterte’s government against organized crime.

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READ MORE: Investigative reporting, press freedom journal launches in London

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The UN says the crackdown has claimed 27,000 lives since 2016, when the president was elected.

Ressa said Duterte “was elected just a month before Brexit, and (they both show that) disinformation works. I’m not even going to call it misinformation — it’s disinformation that works. It pounds on the fracture lines of society, spreading hate and violence.”

She added: “A lie told a million times becomes a fact, and if you’re a traditional news group and you don’t respond — which is what we were all taught to do —you’ve just helped the lie become a fact. This is why our world is upside down, because without facts we don’t have truth, and without truth we have no trust.”

Ressa said: “The Philippines is a cautionary tale. It’s both a curse and a privilege to be a senior journalist in my country today.”

She added: “We’ll look back on this period in 10 years and say this was a critical moment in history. Silence is consent to unspeakable violence and impunity. But aside from that impunity, right now you’re talking about the insidious mass manipulation of information and information operations within our society.”

Ressa said the dangerous power of social media, and its role in the manipulation of information, are felt most in the developing world.

She cited cases such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Myanmar — countries that have no say in how social media algorithms are developed.

She called for social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to be held much more accountable for the way in which information is shared on their platforms, to prevent the spread of “disinformation” and protect those who are working hard to share facts and truth.

Ressa’s comments on the threat facing journalists were echoed by Egyptian-American journalist Mohamed Fahmy, founder of the Investigative Journal, who also spoke at the launch.

“We’re living in an age of unprecedented attacks on journalists, with 80 colleagues murdered and 348 imprisoned in 2018 alone,” he said, citing Reporters Without Borders’ figures.

Fahmy, who has been a campaigner for press freedom since 2013, when he was accused of being a terrorist and imprisoned in Egypt during the Arab Spring, added: “Journalists should never be the story. They should never be on the wrong side of the microphone.”

He said: “I see no better time to work with the world’s investigative journalists on stories often overlooked by the mainstream media.”

The Investigative Journal is a web publication for long-form investigative journalism, and will cover topics such as press freedom, terrorism, corruption and climate change.