Guidelines for the social media community are important, but not perfect in emerging markets
On September 5, Supreme Court justices Md. Mozibur Rahman Miah and Judge Kamrul Hossain Mollah accused BTRC of failing to remove slanderous viral content from social media during a public interest litigation hearing. The bank cited the media’s attempt to assassinate the character of Pori Moni, and also said that the BTRC “can immediately stop the spread of defamatory materials online before court orders before taking action.” In response, Post and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar said that BTRC lacks the power and ability to block content from the platforms. “The government is helpless,” Jabbar said at a press conference, adding that Facebook and YouTube often fail to respond to Bangladesh’s requests to remove defamatory content that does not violate their community guidelines.
To the naked eye, this back-and-forth exchange appears to be nothing more than a game – the ultimate blame is “it” – with no tangible impact on cyber governance and evaluation frameworks. However, it takes nuance to understand how social media giants calculate risk scores and the importance of community guidelines that determine when social media companies act.
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THE COMMUNITY POLICY MONOLITH
The recent events in Afghanistan, for example, have influenced the politics and security landscape in Bangladesh as much as in the EU countries. The effects are often intertemporal – felt over the years with high risk moments and some downtime. There are undoubtedly differences in culture, customs, politics and politics between Bangladesh and the EU. However, the only thing that has remained the same and universal are our reactions to events.
Like any other country, Bangladesh remains vigilant, alert to developments and ready to be open to inclusive, transparent and open government of the people. We know this because governments are monolithic institutions capable of negotiating a solution back and forth in the cabinet before declaring it a policy that acts as the only source of direction that we can call rule or law.
In contrast, social media have a responsibility to present myriad opinions of different people from all walks of life. By definition, or by the way the world has gradually tried to operate itself, a privatized party like Facebook or YouTube is very discouraged from negotiating among themselves and making a decision about which opinions to keep and which discard them. Given the dynamic world events that constantly impacted freedom of expression, social media companies had to strike a middle ground. The goal was simple: to protect users from misinformation, hate speech, and other phenomena that negatively impact not only the world but also corporate reputations. They cannot control opinions, but they can view responses to major world events as universal and “standardize” their effects to determine the contours of safe online behavior.
UNIVERSALITY OF REACTIONS
In October 2020, a French school teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by Islamists for showing a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed in the classroom. After the initial shock and awe, social media in France, and particularly in Europe, was dominated by hyperconservative criticism and the widespread hate speech surrounding the EU’s decision to accept Muslim refugees. The goal of the social media giants at the time was to monitor content so that online hubris did not spill over into offline violence on the streets of Paris.
Shortly afterwards, Emmanuel Macron called Samuel Paty a “silent hero” of freedom of speech in a presidential speech. Within a few days, social media broke out in Pakistan, calling for protests against France on the streets and demanding the government’s expulsion of the French envoy. The goal of the social media giants was to prevent the online fire from turning into offline violence, also in Islamabad.
COMPLIANCE WITH THE MONOLITH
This standardization – the focus on reducing the risk of offline violence – is boldly reflected in community policies where social media, such as Facebook, invest heavily in “mitigating” the harm that arises from the universality of responses result. Although the nature of the damage is different in different markets, the effects of such damage will remain the same, and social media companies will argue that a large part of their risk analysis is to mitigate the effects as much as possible. Through years of trial and error, these media giants have codified their community standards so that sociopolitical shocks around the world can be translated into actionable lessons that contribute to the prosperity of independent and resilient communities without the need for intervention. Therefore, when governments direct their inquiries to the social media giants, relying on the importance of their community policies is a common response.
Are the Community Directives Sufficient? Emerging economies in South Asia, Latin America and Africa are constantly questioning the fortified walls of these Community policies, as if to say that a monolithic package of policies does not adequately reflect the plethora of intertwined problems that exist in these regions. Recently, for example, there was content on Facebook that accused the Afghans leaving the country of being “traitors because they cheated on the Taliban and fled to live as second-class citizens in other countries”. Right from the start, the content visibly praises the regressive and hyperconservative approach of the Taliban before the takeover and dehumanizes the plight of the Afghan refugee. It is clear that the contribution that advocates and praises the violence of the Taliban and, in the worst case, risks calls for offline violence, violates Facebook’s community guidelines. However, Facebook believes this is not the case.
In a tight-knit, ever-changing world littered with new and unique threats, there is a certainty that community policies need to be constantly revised to reflect the state of the world and to be representative of the various communities in which the social Media Companies Are Operating It will be naive to expect that each market will have its community policies and operating teams in the region. However, to take full advantage of standardized community guidelines, the emerging threats need to be mitigated with a narrower, more localized focus.