Israel isn’t the only country where a crucial election is taking place this fall. There will also be important votes in the United States and Brazil – for Congress and the presidency, respectively. These countries too are forced to address technological, communications and political challenges that are threatening the integrity of the election and the public’s trust in social institutions.

In recent years, the dominance of social media in the public debate and in spreading information, including campaign messages, at the expense of the traditional media has made the monitoring of these sites complicated – and more important than ever.

Many election campaigns all over the world – such as the U.S. presidential election in 2016, the Brexit referendum in Britain and previous elections in Israel – have been characterized by an attempt, sometimes by foreign countries, to exploit social media to spread false information, gather personal information or manipulate public opinion. All this is made possible by the ability to conceal or falsify the identity of the person or entity behind the social media account.

For the technology corporations that run social media, this is old news. Many governments and international bodies are demanding that the giants of commercial technology such as Meta (the owner of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp), Google and Twitter take responsibility for the damage likely to be caused by exploiting technology to harm an individual or the wider society.

Basically, the public demand is that these corporations operate deliberately and effectively to locate and address harmful content such as disinformation, misleading information, fraud and incitement.

These corporations seem to be beginning to show responsibility toward the citizens of the countries where they operate and are investing to improve the security and reliability of their services. But this isn’t being done in a similar way or on a similar scale everywhere.

A special report published by Meta before Brazil’s presidential election specifies its many efforts to prevent fraud, incitement and the dissemination of false and misleading information on its social media sites. The company even declared that it had developed artificial intelligence technology that can identify fictitious and double profiles. It’s also employing technology to prevent the mass dissemination of false information on WhatsApp.

According to the report, since 2016, Meta has quadrupled its staffing for addressing security to 40,000 people around the world, and in 2021 alone it invested $5 billion in this area.

But our investigations here in Israel reveal that these resources don’t appear to have reached the Middle East. Some will say that Israel isn’t a large and important enough market to justify investment by the social media giants to improve the security of content. But many studies on incitement and the spread of false information on social media in politics over the past decade around the world indicate that the opposite is true.

The automatic monitoring and moderating systems of social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are better adapted to languages using the Latin alphabet – mainly English – but to the other European languages too. “Marginal” non-Western languages in countries such as India and Pakistan, and in Africa and the Middle East, rarely receive effective protection from baneful phenomena such as incitement to violence, manipulation or anonymous political reports that are not flagged.

Research shows that identifying violations of content rules in Hebrew is a more complicated task for social media’s automatic systems, and for those of Meta in particular. Therefore, if there is anyplace where Meta must strive to ensure that it’s not contributing to a severe blow against election purity, the democratic process and the public welfare, that place is Israel. The experience of recent years proves that quite a number of entities are ready to exploit this weakness.

Last month the Israel Internet Association approached the head of Facebook in Israel and Meta’s leaders in Europe and the Middle East who are responsible for users’ security and trust. The association warned about the neglect of the Israeli arena. An investigation by us in recent months with the help of FakeReporter, an Israeli disinformation watchdog group, discovered that our fears are well grounded.

Facebook and Instagram host hundreds of fictitious and automatic profiles that totally violate the networks’ community rules. Many of the inauthentic profiles engage in untrammeled criminal activity such as prostitution or the sale of drugs and counterfeit bills. Many of them can easily be identified by the fictitious or suspicious names their pages receive, but they continue to operate under the algorithms’ ineffective radar.

After they are reported to Meta, the platform usually replies that it did not see fit to remove them, and they continue to operate. Also, reports sent to the social media sites by their built-in reporting mechanisms concerning offensive content, fraud or incitement to violence usually encounter similar indifference.

If that’s the situation during routine times, how will this system cope in an election period with a flood of false information, a manipulative skewing of public opinion or a repression of voting by sensitive target groups?

The heads of Meta and Facebook in Israel and Europe have an obligation to provide the answers to these questions to users and voters in Israel.
The country’s Central Elections Committee should demand answers and receive a thorough report on the preparations being made. The central role played by these commercial platforms in the political and public debate obligates them to behave responsibly and with transparency toward the public and the local authorities. Great power brings great responsibility.

Therefore, the dominant platforms in Israel should report to the Central Elections Committee and to all the country’s citizens on their means for guaranteeing that social media sites, which a large majority of us use, won’t become a machine of daily deception, incitement, foreign intervention and the sowing of fear and mistrust.

Edan Ring is the director of community affairs at the Israel Internet Association. Dr. Asaf Wiener is the executive director of regulation and public policy at the association, and a senior research fellow at the Meir Shamgar Center for Digital Law and Innovation at Tel Aviv University.

QOSHE - As Israeli Vote Nears, Social Media's Algorithms Aren't Enough - Edan Ring
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As Israeli Vote Nears, Social Media's Algorithms Aren't Enough

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05.10.2022

Israel isn’t the only country where a crucial election is taking place this fall. There will also be important votes in the United States and Brazil – for Congress and the presidency, respectively. These countries too are forced to address technological, communications and political challenges that are threatening the integrity of the election and the public’s trust in social institutions.

In recent years, the dominance of social media in the public debate and in spreading information, including campaign messages, at the expense of the traditional media has made the monitoring of these sites complicated – and more important than ever.

Many election campaigns all over the world – such as the U.S. presidential election in 2016, the Brexit referendum in Britain and previous elections in Israel – have been characterized by an attempt, sometimes by foreign countries, to exploit social media to spread false information, gather personal information or manipulate public opinion. All this is made possible by the ability to conceal or falsify the identity of the person or entity behind the social media account.

For the technology corporations that run social media, this is old news. Many governments and international bodies are demanding that the giants of commercial technology such as Meta (the owner of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp), Google and Twitter take responsibility for the damage likely to be caused by exploiting technology to harm an individual or the wider society.

Basically, the public demand is that these corporations operate deliberately and effectively to locate and address........

© Haaretz


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