Social Media Day – Big Tech harms in MENA and beyond

This Social Media Day, Mona Shtaya Campaigns and Partnerships Manager (MENA) and Corporate Engagement Lead at Digital Action, shines a light on the digital and real-life harms triggered by social media platforms. And what we can collectively do about them.

Every 30 June marks Social Media Day. It was started in 2010 by news website Mashable to celebrate how social media revolutionized the way people communicate and interact with each other. However, as a digital rights defender, I’m using this day to highlight the role of social media platforms in enhancing digital repression in the global majority. On Social Media Day, and every day, we must continue to ask the big question: how can social media platforms invest their resources equitably to protect human rights from digital threats?

Social Media Day is an opportunity to call more people to hold these companies accountable for the impact of their policies on human rights and democracies around the globe. Some Big Tech organizations (such as Meta, Twitter, YouTube, Google, TikTok) claim in their human rights policies that they’re investing resources to fight dis/misinformation, hate speech, gender-based violence, and polarization. But social media platforms fertilize the environment for hate speech and incitement, which often spills over into real-world harm against marginalized communities, especially those in the global majority. For example, communities in Myanmar and Uighurs have been labeled and stereotyped following online hate speech and incitement to violence on social media platforms, which turned into real-life genocides.

Stop rewriting history with misplaced censorship

I’ve spent the past decade working in advocacy to hold technology companies accountable. In Palestine, my homeland, social media companies allow the spread of Israeli hate speech and incitement against the Palestinians, which is extended to real-world harm against Palestinians.

90% of the Israeli government and the Israeli Cyber unit’s requests to take down content documenting human rights violations against Palestinians are accepted by social media companies. 87% of them are aimed at Facebook. In 2022, the BSR Human Rights Due Diligence Report confirmed that Meta’s content moderation policies are biased against Palestinians, which affects Palestinians’ right to non-discrimination, right to political participation, right to free speech, and their right to gathering and assembly.

Other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, such as Syria and Yemen, are facing similar cases where social media platforms are taking down documentation of human rights violations and war crimes. Victims in those countries are unable to find the evidence whenever they seek asylum in other countries, or to ask for remedy. They are rewriting history and reality.

Create contextually-sensitive and equitable social media policies

Some of the social media platforms’ policies are considered disproportionate and unfair, as they were developed with an American and Western central approach, which is not compatible with the contexts in the countries of the global majority.

Meta’s Dangerous Organizations and Individuals (DOI) policy is one of the most prominent examples of this, where the company still keeps this list confidential, even after a copy of it was leaked a couple of years ago on The Intercept. Meta relies on the United States’ list for combating terrorism, and the leaked version has proven that the company imposes harsher penalties on Muslim-majority regions and communities. Meta’s choice to align its policies with a hegemonic country, such as the United States, is alarming. In 2020 Facebook employee Ashok Chandwaney resigned with this powerful last Facebook post, denouncing the company for “profiting off hate”.

Join our Global Coalition for Tech Justice

Despite the dark reality and the discrimination against the global majority that we witness on a daily basis, there is a light at the end of the tunnel that we always see when we work in advocacy and campaigning. By escalating pressure on social media companies to invest more resources when designing their policies and their own technologies, we can make social media a positive and enriching experience again.

The struggle against the technology giants is always collective and cannot be achieved by the will of one person, or one organization, but rather by building a global movement. Human rights defenders, activists, academics, technologists, journalists, and finally workers in these companies who share human rights principles with us must confront the policies of corporates that seek to profit politically and economically over human rights. So, we invite you to join our new Global Coalition for Tech Justice to protect people, their rights and our elections from tech companies.

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