Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Israel-Gaza war is flooding social media with misinformation. The EU wants Big Tech to fix it

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Following the militant group Hamas’s attack on Israel and Israel’s retaliatory strikes in the Palestinian enclave Gaza, social media firms have seen a surge in misinformation related to the conflict, including doctored images and mislabelled videos, alongside images of graphic violence.

The European Union has told technology companies to remove illegal content, misinformation and disinformation from their social media platforms, or risk facing severe penalties.

On Tuesday, EU industry chief Thierry Breton told billionaire Elon Musk to curb disinformation on his platform X (formerly Twitter), warning it was being used to disseminate illegal content and false information.

Mr Breton issued a similar warning to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday, urging his company — which runs Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Threads — to ensure strict compliance with European law.

In his letters to both men, Mr Breton said their companies had 24 hours to inform the EU how they were stopping harmful content on their platforms.

X CEO Linda Yaccarino said the social media platform had removed hundreds of Hamas-affiliated accounts and taken action to remove or label tens of thousands of pieces of content since the militant group’s attack on Israel

Mr Musk responded by touting X’s approach using crowdsourced fact-checking labels.

“Our policy is that everything is open source and transparent, an approach that I know the EU supports,” Mr Musk wrote on X. “Please list the violations you allude to on X, so that the public can see them.”

Mr Breton replied that Mr Musk was “well aware” of the reports on “fake content and glorification of violence”.

“Up to you to demonstrate that you walk the talk,” he said.

X has redistributed resources and refocused internal teams to address the rapidly evolving situation, Ms Yaccarino said, without specifying the changes. She added that the company assembled a leadership group to assess the situation shortly after the attack.

“We wish to reiterate that we welcome further engagement with you and your team, including a meeting, to address any specific questions and look forward to receiving further specifics to which we can respond” she said in the letter to Mr Breton, posted on X.

X has responded to more than 80 take-down requests received in the EU within required the timeline and has not received any notices from Europol regarding illegal content on the platform, the letter states.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, has also sought to remind social media companies they are legally required to prevent the spread of harmful content related to Hamas.

Any firm found to be in breach of European laws faces a fine worth up to 6 per cent of its global turnover, and repeat offenders could even be banned from operating in Europe altogether.

Misinformation on X is ‘unlike anything’, experts say

Experts say that under Elon Musk, X has culled staff and deteriorated to the point that it’s not just failing to clamp down on misinformation but is favouring posts from accounts that pay for its blue-check subscription service, regardless of who runs them.

If such posts go viral, their blue-checked creators can be eligible for payments from X, creating a financial incentive to post whatever gets the most reaction — including misinformation.

Ian Bremmer, a prominent foreign policy expert, posted on X that the level of disinformation on the Israel-Hamas war “being algorithmically promoted” on the platform “is unlike anything I’ve ever been exposed to in my career as a political scientist”.

Posted , updated 

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