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Questions linger over Facebook, Twitter, TikTok’s commitment to maintaining integrity of elections in Africa as countries head to the polls • TechCrunch

Questions linger over Facebook, Twitter, TikTok’s commitment to maintaining integrity of elections in Africa as countries head to the polls • TechCrunch

Questions linger over Facebook, Twitter, TikTok's commitment to maintaining integrity of elections in Africa as countries head to the polls • TechCrunch

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A dozen countries in Africa, including Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy and democracy, are set to hold presidential elections next year, and questions persist over how prepared social media platforms are to tackle the misinformation and misinformation after allegations of sloppy moderation of content during Kenya. polls from last August.

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Concerns are growing as it emerges Twitter cut content moderation after Elon Musk took over, then fired more than half of the staff, and nearly scrubbed the entire Africa team, a move that also left outsourced moderators jobless. With very limited support to filter or stop the spread of propaganda, Africa is likely to fall victim to Twitter’s often erratic or slow response to lies – which catalyze violence in times of political polarization.

But that’s not unique to Twitter; Widely used platforms like Facebook, TikTok, WhatsApp and YouTube have also been singled out for doing little to stop misinformation and misinformation in Africa.

In Nigeria, for example, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed concern about how disinformation and misinformation on social media is fueling conflict, insecurity and mistrust of government as it approaches. February elections – even as the country’s economy continues to struggle, causing a sense of instability. Yet as momentum builds for what is one of the most contested elections, activists, researchers and some civilians fear the growing spread of negative campaigning.

Researchers predict that hateful content and lies, intended to confuse or influence voters in Nigeria, will continue to be shared online. They urge tech companies to hire and train local experts familiar with local languages ​​and context to intercept misleading, violent or intimidating messages that could undermine the integrity of elections.

“Social media platforms in particular – Twitter, Meta (Facebook), YouTube, WhatsApp and Telegram – should step up their efforts to identify and address election-related disinformation, disinformation and conspiracies, as well as to intercept violent or intimidating,” said Audu Bulama. Bukarti, senior fellow at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, in a report released a fortnight ago on security risks in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s young, tech-savvy population is Africa’s most active on social media. Calls for platforms to step up content moderation, while not new, follow the increased use of social sites due to smartphone and internet penetration.

“The reach and influence of social media has grown steadily in the years following the 2019 election. It will play a pivotal role in the 2023 election, in terms of positive political communication and in terms of capacity to spread misinformation and misinformation,” Bukarti said.

In Nigeria, Meta says it has invested in human resources, including content moderators and technology to stem the misuse of its platforms ahead of the elections. The social media giant is also taking the same steps it did before and during Kenya’s elections, including verifying the identity of people posting political ads. But Odanga Madung, a member of technology and the Mozilla company, is not convinced that Facebook and other social sites are sufficiently prepared.

“Social media platforms are still not fully prepared to deal with election environments, particularly as they have suffered mass layoffs which have significantly affected the way work is done in many of the areas where these elections will take place,” Madung said.

“And quite frankly, they have consistently failed to address the key aspects that make an election environment a dangerous information environment in the first place, where things are neither right nor wrong and where information tends to be a lightly militarized. Election environments are incredibly unreliable environments. I don’t think they’re really going to be successful there.

Away from Nigeria, a pivotal moment is also approaching for social media platforms and fragile nations such as Sudan, South Sudan, DR Congo, Libya and Mali – most of which have blocked access to social media in the recent past to quell protests against their governments – as they go to the polls next year.

Failed labeling and moderation

Social sites like Facebook, Twitter and TikTok have recently come under scrutiny for their role in undermining the integrity of Kenya’s elections. A report by the Mozilla Foundation claims that content labeling has failed to stop misinformation, while platforms such as Facebook have profited from political advertising which has served to amplify propaganda.

Twitter and TikTok’s uneven labeling of posts calling for elections ahead of the official announcement gave the platforms a partisan appearance and failed to stop the spread of lies, despite partnering with fact-checking organizations .

Facebook, Africa’s leading social media platform, failed on this front by having “no visible label” during the elections, allowing the spread of propaganda – such as allegations of the kidnapping and arrest of a prominent politician, which had been debunked by local media. Months later, Facebook tagged the original post claiming the kidnapping and arrest of the prominent politician.

Slow responses to Facebook’s lies are now at the center of a lawsuit filed last week claiming Meta is fueling violence and hatred in eastern and southern Africa.

Abrham Meareg, one of the petitioners and whose father, Professor Meareg Amare, was killed during the Tigray war after Facebook posts doxed and called for violence against him, says Facebook has failed , on several occasions, to delete the publications which put the life of his father in danger. He said a post had recently been cut, a year after his father was killed – more than 600,000 Ethiopians were killed in the two-year war that began in 2020.

The case claims Facebook’s algorithm is fueling viral hate and violence while content moderation in Africa is sloppy as moderators lack local knowledge to moderate content posted in local languages.

“A lot of them (platforms) lack context and they still won’t deliver on the promises they make to their users because, again, a lie is able to move very quickly across front platforms. to be able to seize it,” Odanga said.

Whistleblower Frances Haugen previously accused Facebook of “literally stoking 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 language mainland of Ethiopia.

“Something is wrong with the way Facebook moderates content, and… there is a lack of investment in content moderation, especially for African countries. When you compare yourself to other regions, we get second-rate treatment. And what is the effect? We are witnessing a catalyst for civil unrest, a civil war arising from normal interactions; viral posts that poke fun at people and then turn into insightful posts that my client is proof of end up causing violence in real life,” said Meareg’s attorney, Mercy Mutemi.

Meanwhile, social media remains at the heart of spreading political propaganda and diluting important investigations into issues of economic and social corruption. Last year, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was mentioned in the Pandora Papers – leaked files detailing the hidden wealth of a number of world leaders, celebrities and billionaires in offshore havens. However, the researchers noticed the surge of two hashtags, #offshoreaccountfacts and #phonyleaks, which dominated trending topics and shaded organic discussions on Twitter in Kenya, undermining the documentary’s findings.

Foreign-sponsored campaigns with political objectives have also affected more than three-quarters of countries in Africa as “disinformation campaigns are becoming increasingly sophisticated in camouflaging their origins by outsourcing billboard operations”.

According to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies published in April this year, Russian-sponsored disinformation campaigns by the mercenary force of the Wagner Group, promoting the Kremlin’s interests on the continent, for example, have thus affected more than 16 African countries.

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