In June, Global Witness and Foxglove found that Meta continued to approve Amharic ads targeting Ethiopian users that included hate speech and calls for violence. Facebook is suspected of spreading hate speech and inciting ethnic violence in the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia.
Crider believes that Facebook needs to invest more in its moderation practices and democratic protection. She worries that even the threat of an injunction will allow companies to shift responsibility for their unresolved problems.
“I think eventually, when any regulator looks at Facebook and it looks like they’re going to get them to actually do something that might cost them some money, they’re going to start ranting about censorship and making the wrong choice that it’s either essential uncontrolled and unregulated Facebook or no Facebook at all,” she said.
Crider said companies could do things including “break the glass” measures such as de-prioritizing or limiting the scope of inflammatory content from its heavily promoted live videos, as well as banning election-related ads ahead of the vote.
Mercy Ndegwa, Meta’s director of public policy for East and Horn of Africa, told WIRED that the company “has taken extensive steps to help us capture hate speech and inflammatory content in Kenya, and we are ramping up these efforts ahead of the election.” However, she Acknowledging, “Despite these efforts, we know there will be some instances that we miss or delete by mistake, because both machines and humans make mistakes.” Meta did not answer about whether it has spoken Swahili or other Kenyan languages the number of content moderators, or the nature of its dialogue with the Kenyan government on specific issues.
“What the researchers did was stress test Facebook’s systems and prove that what the company said was nonsense,” Madung said. The fact that Meta is allowing ads on the platform despite the censorship process “raises questions about its ability to handle other forms of hate speech,” Madung said, including a large amount of user-generated content that doesn’t require pre-approval.
But, Madung said, banning Meta’s platform won’t eliminate disinformation or racial tensions because it doesn’t address the root cause. “It’s not a mutually exclusive issue,” he said. “We need to find a middle ground between a draconian approach and true platform accountability.”
On Saturday, Joseph Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary for Internet and Communication Technology (ICT), tweet“Media including social media will continue to enjoy press freedom in Kenya. It is unclear what legal framework the NCIC plans to use to suspend Facebook. The government has the record. We will not shut down the internet.” Africa Policy, Digital Rights Nonprofit Access Now Analyst Bridget Andere said there is currently no legal framework that would allow the NCIC to order a suspension of Facebook.
“Platforms like Meta have failed completely in dealing with misinformation, disinformation and hate speech in Tigray and Myanmar,” Andere said. “The danger is that the government will use this as an excuse to shut down the internet and block apps, when it should incentivize companies to invest more in human content moderation and do so in a manner that is ethical and respectful of human rights.”
Likewise, Ma Dong worries that whether or not the government chooses to suspend Facebook and Instagram now, the damage may have already been done. “The effect will be seen at different times,” he said. “The problem is that the precedent now officially exists and can be referenced at any time.”