June 19, 2021

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Twitter and Facebook Admit They Wrongly Blocked Millions of Posts About Gaza Strip Airstrikes

Twitter and Facebook Admit They Wrongly Blocked Millions of Posts About Gaza Strip Airstrikes

“Just days after violent conflict erupted in Israel and the Palestinian territories, both Facebook and Twitter copped to major faux pas: The companies had wrongly blocked or restricted millions of mostly pro-Palestinian posts and accounts related to the crisis,” reports the Washington Post:

Activists around the world charged the companies with failing a critical test: whether their services would enable the world to watch an important global event unfold unfettered through the eyes of those affected. The companies blamed the errors on glitches in artificial intelligence software.

In Twitter’s case, the company said its service mistakenly identified the rapid-firing tweeting during the confrontations as spam, resulting in hundreds of accounts being temporarily locked and the tweets not showing up when searched for. Facebook-owned Instagram gave several explanations for its problems, including a software bug that temporarily blocked video-sharing and saying its hate speech detection software misidentified a key hashtag as associated with a terrorist group.

The companies said the problems were quickly resolved and the accounts restored. But some activists say many posts are still being censored. Experts in free speech and technology said that’s because the issues are connected to a broader problem: overzealous software algorithms that are designed to protect but end up wrongly penalizing marginalized groups that rely on social media to build support… Despite years of investment, many of the automated systems built by social media companies to stop spam, disinformation and terrorism are still not sophisticated enough to detect the difference between desirable forms of expression and harmful ones. They often overcorrect, as in the most recent errors during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or they under-enforce, allowing harmful misinformation and violent and hateful language to proliferate…

Jillian York, a director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group that opposes government surveillance, has researched tech company practices in the Middle East. She said she doesn’t believe that content moderation — human or algorithmic — can work at scale… Palestinian activists and experts who study social movements say it was another watershed historical moment in which social media helped alter the course of events…

Payment app Venmo also mistakenly suspended transactions of humanitarian aid to Palestinians during the war. The company said it was trying to comply with U.S. sanctions and had resolved the issues.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.