Questions linger over Facebook, Twitter, TikTok’s commitment to uphold election integrity in Africa, as countries head to polls • TechCrunch

One dozen countries in Africa, including Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy and democracy, are expected to hold presidential elections next year and questions are raised about whether media platforms How well prepared social media is to curb misinformation and misinformation after claims of content moderation were broken in polls in Kenya last August.

Concerns are growing as it is reported that Twitter has scaled down the following content moderation Elon Musk took over and subsequently laid off more than half of the staff, while also eliminating the entire Africa team, a decision that also cost outsourced executives. With very limited support for screening or preventing the spread of propaganda, Africa is likely to be the victim of Twitter’s slow or erratic response to misinformation, which is a catalyst. for violence in times of political polarization.

But this doesn’t just happen with Twitter; Widely used platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, WhatsApp and YouTube have also been criticized for doing little to prevent misinformation and misinformation in Africa.

In Nigeria, for example, current president Muhammadu buhari expressed concern about how misinformation and disinformation on social media is causing conflict, insecurity and distrust of government ahead of the February election — even if The country’s economy continues to struggle, causing a sense of instability. Yet as momentum grows for one of the most controversially contested elections, activists, researchers and a section of the civilian population are concerned about the growing spread of negative campaigning. .

The researchers predict that hateful content and misinformation, intended to confuse or influence voters in Nigeria, will continue to be shared online. They strongly urge tech companies to hire and train local experts with knowledge of local languages ​​and contexts to block misleading, violent or scary posts that could undermine integrity of the election.

“In particular, social media platforms – Twitter, Meta (Facebook), YouTube, WhatsApp and Telegram – should step up efforts to identify and deal with misinformation, misinformation and conspiracy related to elections as well as blocking violent or threatening messages,” speak Audu Bulama Bukarti, senior fellow, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, in a report published two weeks ago on security risks in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s young and tech-savvy population are among the most active in Africa on social media. The call for platforms to step up content moderation, although not new, follows the increased use of social sites due to smartphone and internet penetration.

“The reach and influence of social media has grown larger in the years since the 2019 election. It will play an important role in the 2023 election, in terms of active political communication. and about the possibility of spreading misinformation and misinformation,” Bukarti said.

In Nigeria, Meta claims to have invested in people, including content moderators, and technology to prevent abuse of its platforms ahead of elections. The social media giant is also taking similar measures as before and during the Kenyan election, including verifying the identities of those posting political ads. But Odanga Madung, Mozilla’s social and technology colleague, doesn’t believe Facebook and other social sites have prepared well enough.

“Social media platforms are still not quite ready for the election environment, especially since they have had mass layoffs, which has had a huge impact on the way they operate,” Madung said. action in some of the areas where these elections will be held.

“And frankly, they have consistently failed to address the key aspects that make the electoral environment such a dangerous information environment in the first place, where everything is neither right nor wrong and information can be tend to be pretty much weaponized. The electoral environment is one of extremely low confidence. I don’t think they will really succeed in this.”

In addition to Nigeria, a pivotal moment is also approaching for social media platforms and fragile countries such as Sudan, South Sudan, DR Congo, Libya and Mali – most of which have blocked network access societies in recent times to quell protests against their government – as they head to the polls next year.

Messy labeling and censorship

Social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and TikTok have recently come under close scrutiny for their role in undermining the integrity of elections in Kenya. A report by the Mozilla Foundation claims that labeling content cannot prevent misinformation, while platforms like Facebook profit from political advertising to amplify propaganda.

Twitter and TikTok spot labeling posts calling for elections before official announcement makes these platforms appear partisan and does not prevent the spread of misinformation, despite partnering with organizations Reality check.

Facebook, the leading social media platform in Africa, has failed miserably on this front due to the lack of “any visible labels” in the elections, allowing the propaganda to go viral – such as claims about the kidnapping and arrest of a prominent politician, was debunked by the local media house. Months later, Facebook put a label on the original parcel announced the kidnapping and arrest of the famous politician.

Facebook’s slow response to falsehoods is now at the heart of a lawsuit filed last week, claiming that Meta is fueling violence and hatred in eastern and southern Africa.

Abrham Meareg, one of the applicants and his father, Professor Meareg Amare, was killed during the Tigray War after Facebook posts insulted and called for violence against him, saying that Facebook had failed. , by many requests, in taking down posts that smeared his father’s life. in danger. He said a post was recently taken down, a year after his father was murdered – more than 600,000 Ethiopians were killed in the two-year war that began in 2020.

The case claims that Facebook’s algorithm promotes viral hate and violence while censorship of content in Africa is difficult due to moderators’ lack of local knowledge to moderate posted content. in the local language.

“Many of them (platforms) lack context and they will always fall short of the promises they make to users because, again, lies can spread very quickly across platforms. before they could catch it, Odanga said.

Whistleblower Frances Haugen previously accused Facebook of “literally encouraging ethnic violence” in Ethiopia and a recent Global Witness investigation also noted that the social site was “extremely poor at detecting hate speech in the primary Ethiopian language.”

“There is something wrong with the way Facebook censors content and… the lack of investment in content moderation, especially for African countries. When you compare with other regions, we are getting second class treatment. And what effect? We are seeing the catalyst for civil unrest, civil war coming from ordinary interactions; Mercy Mutemi, Meareg’s attorney, said the posts that went viral meant to mock people and then escalated into poignant posts that my client was proof of that ended up causing real-life violence.

Meanwhile, social media remains at the heart of political propaganda and diluting critical investigations into issues surrounding economic and social corruption. Last year, former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta was mentioned in the Pandora Records – a leak of records detailing the hidden wealth of a number of global leaders, celebrities and billionaires in foreign paradises. However, the researchers found a spike in two hashtags, #offshoreaccountfacts and #phonyleaks, topping trending topics and obscuring organic discussions on Twitter in Kenya, weakening documentary results.

Foreign-funded campaigns with political goals have also affected more than three-quarters of countries in Africa as “disinformation campaigns have become increasingly sophisticated in disguising their origins. of them by outsourcing the publishing activities”.

According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies report published in April this year, such as the Russian-sponsored disinformation campaigns of the Wagner Group mercenary forces, aimed at promoting the Kremlin’s interests in the continent, have influenced the More than 16 countries in Africa.


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