Study finds social media platforms failed to remove nearly 90 percent of Islamophobic content

A study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that some of the widely shared social media posts contained dehumanizing content about Muslims and Islam.
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Updated 28 April 2022

Study finds social media platforms failed to remove nearly 90 percent of Islamophobic content

  • The research, led by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, looked at more than 530 posts, viewed 25 million times, that contained dehumanizing content about Muslims and Islam.
  • Much of the hateful content we uncovered was blatant and easy to find, with even overtly Islamophobic hashtags circulating openly,’ said the chief executive of the CCDH

LONDON: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok failed to remove nearly 90 percent of anti-Muslim and Islamophobic content on their platforms, according to new research published on Thursday.

The study, led by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, looked at more than 530 posts, viewed 25 million times, that contained dehumanizing content about Muslims and Islam.

“Much of the hateful content we uncovered was blatant and easy to find, with even overtly Islamophobic hashtags circulating openly and hundreds of thousands of users belonging to groups dedicated to preaching anti-Muslim hatred,” said Imran Ahmed, the chief executive of the CCDH.

ALSO READ: 15 years on, has Twitter done more harm than good in the Middle East? 

The messages were not limited to offensive opinions but also included caricatures, false claims and conspiracy theories. Some Instagram posts, for example, depicted Muslims as pigs and called for their expulsion from Europe.

Another social media post likened Islam to a cancer that should be “treated with radiation” and was accompanied by an image of an atomic blast. Messages on Twitter suggested that Muslim migration was part of a plot to change the politics of other countries. Many of the posts were accompanied by offensive hashtags such as #deathtoislam, #islamiscancer and #raghead.

ALSO READ: Social media platforms doing little to combat online hate speech in the Arab world: Experts 

The CCDH said that most of the hateful posts and Islamophobic content it monitored for the study was reported by users to the platforms’ community standards watchdogs. However, few were removed. Facebook, for example, took action on only seven out of 125 reported posts; Instagram on 32 out of 227 posts; TikTok on 18 out 50 posts; Twitter on three out of 105 posts; and YouTube failed to do anything about any of 23 videos it received complaints about.

Researchers also found that Facebook was being used by Islamophobic groups with names such as “Islam means Terrorism,” “Stop Islamization of America” and “Boycott Halal Certification in Australia.” Many of the groups, based predominantly in the UK, US and Australia, have thousands of members.

“Fight Against Liberalism, Socialism and Islam,” for example, has almost 5,000 members. The group is run by South African lawyer Mark Taitz. It claims that “moderate Islam does not exist and too many people fail to understand this,” and encourages Facebook users to “join our group to learn about Islam and the atrocities it is committing in ‘God’s name.’”

In response to the study, Twitter said it “does not tolerate the abuse or harassment of people on the basis of religion” and highlighted the automated system it uses to flag content that violates its policies. It did not address any of the specific findings of the report but the company did admit that it “knows there is still work to be done.”

ALSO READ: Facebook accused of promoting hate speech in India 

This is not the first time that social media platforms have been criticized over their responses to hate speech and offensive content. In December, for example, a report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank that tracks online extremism, found that Facebook failed to remove extremist content. A new tool introduced the platform in November even tagged photos of beheadings and violent hate speech by Daesh and the Taliban as “insightful” and “engaging.”


OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere

Updated 15 August 2022

OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere

  • As well as the display over Riyadh Boulevard as part of Gamers8, the streaming service announced a screen takeover and fireworks display to herald debut of ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel

DUBAI: Middle East streaming platform OSN+ is celebrating the upcoming premiere of new HBO series “House of the Dragon,” a prequel to the international hit “Game of Thrones,” by staging an immersive drone show at Riyadh Boulevard on Aug. 18, as part of the ongoing Gamers8 festival.

In addition to the airborne light show, featuring 1,000 drones, the special celebration will include a complete screen takeover at Gamers8 and a fireworks display.

“OSN+ is excited to launch a spectacular drone show, as part of the Gamers8 festival, ahead of the highly anticipated release of ‘House of the Dragon’ on Aug. 22 in the Middle East,” said Ashley Rite, vice-president of marketing and growth with the streamer.

“Alongside an expansive screen takeover and firework display, the gaming festival will provide an engaging and immersive platform to celebrate the premiere of the first episode of the ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel with fans, both within the Saudi Arabian capital and across the Kingdom.”

The first season of the 10-episode HBO Original drama will air exclusively in the region on OSN+ from Aug. 22, with the first episode available at the same time as its US premiere and subsequent episodes released weekly.


YouTube plans to launch streaming video service

Updated 15 August 2022

YouTube plans to launch streaming video service

  • The platform has been in the works for at least 18 months and could be available as early as this fall.

LONDON: Alphabet Inc’s YouTube is planning to launch an online store for streaming video services, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The company has renewed talks with entertainment companies about participating in the platform, which it is referring to internally as a “channel store,” the report said, citing people close to the recent discussions.
The platform has been in the works for at least 18 months and could be available as early as this fall, the report added.
Alphabet did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
With more consumers cutting the cord on cable or satellite TV and shifting to subscription-based streaming services, the planned launch will allow YouTube to join companies like Roku Inc. and Apple in a bid to gain a portion of the already crowded streaming market.
Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that Walmart Inc. has held talks with media companies about including streaming entertainment in its membership service.


Strike four: Facebook misses election misinfo in Brazil ads

Updated 15 August 2022

Strike four: Facebook misses election misinfo in Brazil ads

  • Facebook has identified Brazil as one of its priority countries where it’s investing special resources specifically to tackle election related disinformation

Facebook failed to detect blatant election-related misinformation in ads ahead of Brazil’s 2022 election, a new report from Global Witness has found, continuing a pattern of not catching material that violates its policies the group describes as “alarming.”
The advertisements contained false information about the country’s upcoming election, such as promoting the wrong election date, incorrect voting methods and questioning the integrity of the election.
This is the fourth time that the London-based nonprofit has tested Meta’s ability to catch blatant violations of the rules of its most popular social media platform— and the fourth such test Facebook has flubbed. In the three prior instances, Global Witness submitted advertisements containing violent hate speech to see if Facebook’s controls — either human reviewers or artificial intelligence — would catch it. They did not.
“Facebook has identified Brazil as one of its priority countries where it’s investing special resources specifically to tackle election related disinformation,” said Jon Lloyd, senior adviser at Global Witness. “So we wanted to really test out their systems with enough time for them to act. And with the US midterms around the corner, Meta simply has to get this right — and right now.”
Brazil’s national elections will be held on Oct. 2 amid high tensions and disinformation threatening to discredit the electoral process. Facebook is the most popular social media platform in the country. In a statement, Meta said it has ” prepared extensively for the 2022 election in Brazil.”
“We’ve launched tools that promote reliable information and label election-related posts, established a direct channel for the Superior Electoral Court to send us potentially-harmful content for review, and continue closely collaborating with Brazilian authorities and researchers,” the company said.
In 2020 Facebook began requiring advertisers who wish to run ads about elections or politics to complete an authorization process and include “Paid for by” disclaimers on these ads, similar to what it does in the US The increased safeguards follow the 2016 US presidential elections, when Russia used rubles to pay for political ads designed to stoke divisions and unrest among Americans.
Global Witness said it broke these rules when it submitted the test ads (which were approved for publication but were never actually published). The group placed the ads from outside Brazil, from Nairobi and London, which should have raised red flags.
It was also not required to put a “paid for by” disclaimer on the ads and did not use a Brazilian payment method — all safeguards Facebook says it had put in place to prevent misuse of its platform by malicious actors trying to intervene in elections around the world.
“What’s quite clear from the results of this investigation and others is that their content moderation capabilities and the integrity systems that they deploy in order to mitigate some of the risk during election periods, it’s just not working,” Lloyd said.
The group is using ads as a test and not regular posts because Meta claims to hold advertisements to an “even stricter” standard than regular, unpaid posts, according to its help center page for paid advertisements.
But judging from the four investigations, Lloyd said that’s not actually clear.
“We we are constantly having to take Facebook at their word. And without a verified independent third party audit, we just can’t hold Meta or any other tech company accountable for what they say they’re doing,” he said.
Global Witness submitted ten ads to Meta that obviously violated its policies around election-related advertising. They included false information about when and where to vote, for instance and called into question the integrity of Brazil’s voting machines — echoing disinformation used by malicious actors to destabilize democracies around the world.
This will be Brazil’s first election since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who is seeking reelection, came to power. Bolsonaro has repeatedly attacked the integrity of the country’s election systems.
“Disinformation featured heavily in its 2018 election, and this year’s election is already marred by reports of widespread disinformation, spread from the very top: Bolsonaro is already seeding doubt about the legitimacy of the election result, leading to fears of a United States-inspired January 6 ‘stop the steal’ style coup attempt,” Global Witness said.
In its previous investigations, the group found that Facebook did not catch hate speech in Myanmar, where ads used a slur to refer to people of east Indian or Muslim origin and call for their deaths; in Ethiopia, where the ads used dehumanizing hate speech to call for the murder of people belonging to each of Ethiopia’s three main ethnic groups; and in Kenya, where the ads spoke of beheadings, rape and bloodshed.


Iran conservative media hail Salman Rushdie attacker

Updated 15 August 2022

Iran conservative media hail Salman Rushdie attacker

  • Rushdie was on a ventilator after the attack during a literary event in New York state on Friday, more than 30 years after he went into hiding following late supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa

TEHRAN: Iranian ultra-conservative newspaper Kayhan on Saturday hailed the man who stabbed British author Salman Rushdie — the target of a 1989 Iranian fatwa calling for his death.
Rushdie was on a ventilator after the attack during a literary event in New York state on Friday, more than 30 years after he went into hiding following late supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa.
“Bravo to this courageous and duty-conscious man who attacked the apostate and depraved Salman Rushdie in New York,” wrote the paper, whose chief is appointed by current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Let us kiss the hands of the one who tore the neck of the enemy of God with a knife,” the daily added.
With the exception of reformist publication Etemad, Iranian media followed a similar line, describing Rushdie as an “apostate.”
State-owned paper Iran said that the “neck of the devil” had been “cut by a razor.”
Iranian authorities have yet to make any official comment on the stabbing attack against Rushdie.
But Mohammad Marandi, an adviser to the negotiating team for Iran’s nuclear talks in Vienna, wrote on Twitter: “I won’t be shedding tears for a writer who spouts endless hatred and contempt for Muslims and Islam.”
“But, isn’t it odd that as we near a potential nuclear deal, the US makes claims about a hit on Bolton... and then this happens?” he questioned.
The attack came after Iran hinted earlier on Friday that it may accept a final compromise to revive its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. This followed the European Union’s submission of a “final text” in Vienna.
The US Justice Department said Wednesday that it had indicted a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards over allegations he had offered to pay an individual in the United States $300,000 to kill former White House national security adviser John Bolton.
Iran dismissed the allegations as “fiction.”
Rushdie, 75, was propelled into the spotlight with his second novel “Midnight’s Children” in 1981, which won international praise and Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for its portrayal of post-independence India, where he was born.
But his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” transformed his life when Khomeini issued a religious decree ordering his killing.
In 1998, the government of Iran’s reformist president Mohammad Khatami assured Britain that Iran would not implement the fatwa.
But Khamenei said in 2005 he still believed Rushdie was an apostate whose killing would be authorized by Islam.


Twitter plan to fight midterm misinformation falls short, voting rights experts say

Updated 12 August 2022

Twitter plan to fight midterm misinformation falls short, voting rights experts say

LONDON: Twitter Inc. on Thursday set out a plan to combat the spread of election misinformation that revives previous strategies, but civil and voting rights experts said it would fall short of what is needed to prepare for the upcoming US midterm elections.
The social media company said it will apply its civic integrity policy, introduced in 2018, to the Nov. 8 midterms, when numerous US Senate and House of Representatives seats will be up for election. The policy relies on labeling or removing posts with misleading content, focused on messages intended to stop voting or claims intended to undermine public confidence in an election.
In a statement, Twitter said it has taken numerous steps in recent months to “elevate reliable resources” about primaries and voting processes. Applying a label to a tweet also means the content is not recommended or distributed to more users.
The San Francisco-based company is currently in a legal battle with billionaire Elon Musk over his attempt to walk away from his $44-billion deal to acquire Twitter.
Musk has called himself a “free speech absolutist,” and has said Twitter posts should only be removed if there is illegal content, a view supported by many in the tech industry.
But civil rights and online misinformation experts have long accused social media and tech platforms of not doing enough to prevent the spread of false content, including the idea that President Joe Biden did not win the 2020 election.
They warn that misinformation could be an even greater challenge this year, as candidates who question the 2020 election are running for office, and divisive rhetoric is spreading following an FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home earlier this week.
“We’re seeing the same patterns playing out,” said Evan Feeney, deputy senior campaign director at Color of Change, which advocates for the rights of Black Americans.
In the blog post, Twitter said a test of redesigned labels saw a decline in users’ retweeting, liking and replying to misleading content.
Researchers say Twitter and other platforms have a spotty record in consistently labeling such content.
In a paper published last month, Stanford University researchers examined a sample of posts on Twitter and Meta Platforms’ Facebook that altogether contained 78 misleading claims about the 2020 election. They found that Twitter and Facebook both consistently applied labels to only about 70 percent of the claims.
In a statement, Twitter said it has taken numerous steps in recent months to “elevate reliable resources” about primaries and voting processes.
Twitter’s efforts to fight misinformation during the midterms will include information prompts to debunk falsehoods before they spread widely online.
More emphasis should be placed on removing false and misleading posts, said Yosef Getachew, media and democracy program director at nonpartisan group Common Cause.
“Pointing them to other sources isn’t enough,” he said.
Experts also questioned Twitter’s practice of leaving up some tweets from world leaders in the name of public interest.
“Twitter has a responsibility and ability to stop misinformation at the source,” Feeney said, saying that world leaders and politicians should face a higher standard for what they tweet.
Twitter leads the industry in releasing data on how its efforts to intervene against misinformation are working, said Evelyn Douek, an assistant professor at Stanford Law School who studies online speech regulation.
Yet more than a year after soliciting public input on what the company should do when a world leader violates its rules, Twitter has not provided an update, she said.