Nearly 50% of the world’s population uses social media; Facebook (2.2 billion), with YouTube and Twitter having 2 billion and 330 million active users respectively. It is evident that social media has created spaces for people to connect and express themselves. It has also created a space for people to make a living. However, social media has also held huge power over the information we see and interact with online.
Did you know that many users face digital discrimination by social media platforms? Journalists, activists and marginalized groups are often targeted for a content takedown on social media. It is estimated that 22% of all violations of women artists’ free expression happened in the digital space.
“By using algorithms and human moderators, both of whom are prone to mistakes and bias, they are removing large amounts of content in error, silencing millions of people. This impacts women, LGBTQI people and minorities, who are already often denied a voice in society.” This is according to digital rights organization, Article 19.
A recent study has also indicated that YouTube’s policies are discriminatory against Palestinians. The research found that the definition of violence is unclear, causing the removal of many Palestinian videos, spatial discrimination, surveillance, and punishment by stopping channels and withholding monetization, and resulting from these Palestinian feelings of exclusion, discrimination, isolation, anger, and disappointment.
Censorship by social media platforms reduces dialogue, shrinks public knowledge for everyone and prevents us from holding those in power to account. It is hard to know how many voices have been silenced but Article 19 projects that the number is significant. Facebook’s July – September 2019 statistics on enforcement of their content rules on nudity and sexual activity show that 860,800 pieces of content were re-instated after they identified that they were taken down in error –either through appeals or secondary checks. It is estimated there are likely many more pieces of information were not picked up by their checks. This wrongful takedown is further widening the gap in the already existing discrimination in online spaces, reducing the diversity of voices online.
Article 19 has launched a campaign dubbed #missingvoices to ensure that those voices who are taken offline by error or bias, have their freedom of expression protected through the ability to appeal content decisions, and have their posts and accounts reinstated when the process concludes in their favour. An appeals process is not just about the substance of the content but is a safeguard to protect the rights of a platform’s users. This includes, but it is not limited to, content flagged and removed as ‘hate speech’, “extremist” content, or nudity.
This would provide a safeguard for freedom of expression online and enable users to challenge these companies when they make bad decisions. Article 19 also wants to see more transparency from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on their content moderation decisions, to make sure human rights are being respected on their platforms, and that this is being addressed where they are not.