ISRAEL AT WAREU comes to the fore in battle against Hamas’ use of social media
ISRAEL AT WAR
EU comes to the fore in battle against Hamas’ use of social media
The new Digital Services Act has allowed the European Union to put pressure on the likes of X, Meta, TikTok, and Google to stop the spreading of fake news, conspiracy theories, and horrific images
In every round of conflict between Israel and Hamas, social platforms become an arena for anti-Israeli propaganda and incitement, support and praise for terrorists, and of course a source for spreading fake news, conspiracy, and horrific images. The current war is no different, with the significant difference that the scope of these contents is significantly greater than in the past. These contents have a substantial impact on the discourse and perception of reality of the billions of surfers on these platforms, but in this arena, as in other arenas, the voice of the Israeli government and the official state mechanisms are not heard.
Into the created vacuum flowed many rank-and-file surfers, who bear the burden of information from Israel and other countries: developing campaigns, managing surfers' networks, creating and distributing memes and fighting false or distorted narratives. But despite their amazing and original activity, there is no substitute for a state that deals directly with the heads of the various platforms, makes it clear to them where they are wrong and demands immediate answers and corrections from them. Fortunately for the citizens of Israel, even this void left by the government has been filled thanks to Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Internal Market in the European Union.
In the past, Breton was a businessman who, among other things, served as chairman and CEO of the French technology and telecom giants Thomson-RCA and later France Telecom (now Orange) and Atos, a professional experience that gives Breton familiarity with the field of social media. In between, he also served as France's Minister of Economy, Finance and Industry under President Jacques Chirac, a position that allowed him to learn from the other side about the importance of the regulator in shaping markets and company behavior. He entered his current position in the Union in 2019, and now the war in Gaza allows him to connect the two worlds from which he came to take decisive action against the flood of harmful information on social media.
The first step was a well-publicized warning letter he sent to the controlling owner of X (formerly Twitter), Elon Musk, last Tuesday, stating that the EU has “indications of X/Twitter being used to disseminate illegal content and disinformation in the EU.”
Musk's response was arrogant and brazen: “Our policy is that everything is open source and transparent, an approach that I know the EU supports. Please list the violations you allude to on X, so that the public can see them. Merci beaucoup.”
But the CEO, Linda Yaccarino, took his words with due seriousness, and throughout the week published several tweets highlighting the company's efforts to remove or give appropriate context to problematic posts. She wrote to Breton while noting that this was a direct response to his request to respond within 24 hours.
Twitter was just the first in line. The next day, Breton addressed the founder and CEO of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg, with a similar request.
“Like many, we were shocked and horrified by the brutal terrorist attacks by Hamas, and our thoughts go out to civilians who are suffering in Israel and Gaza as the violence continues to unfold.
“Since the terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israel on Saturday, and Israel’s response in Gaza, expert teams from across our company have been working around the clock to monitor our platforms, while protecting people’s ability to use our apps to shed light on important developments happening on the ground," the company wrote in a press release detailing its efforts on the matter.
These efforts include the removal of 795,000 "offensive contents" in the first three days of the war - 7 times more than the amount of content in Hebrew and Arabic that was removed daily in the previous two months; Establishing a special situation room where native Hebrew and Arabic speaking experts closely monitor and respond to various incidents; and removing content that identifies Israelis kidnapped by Hamas in order to maintain the safety and privacy of the kidnapping victims.
On Thursday, Tikok CEO Shuo Zi Chew received a similar warning, highlighting the fact that many young people use the platform. "TikTok has a particular obligation to protect children & teenagers from violent content and terrorist propaganda as well as death challenges & potentially life-threatening content," Breton wrote on X.
And on Friday, it was the turn of Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Neal Mohan to receive a letter from Breton that read, among other things: "You have a particular obligation to protect the millions of children and teenagers using your platform in the EU from violent content depicting hostage taking and other graphic videos."
Breton isn't sending the letters out of some idealistic hope that the tech giants will listen, and there's good reason why they're responding to him in detail. Breton has a new whip that allows him to deal with the flood of dangerous information flowing through social media, one that he makes sure to mention in every letter: the Digital Services Act (DSA), which came into effect at the very end of August. This law regulates various aspects of the activity of large technology platforms, which among other things requires them to remove hate publications, incitement to terrorism, and child abuse. A company that violates the law will risk a fine of up to 6% of its global revenue. For the large platforms, these are amounts that can reach tens of billions of dollars.
The law also allows Breton to compel companies to provide him with in-depth information about their activities in various aspects, and this is what he did on Thursday when he turned to X on behalf of the European Union with an official request to present data on the extent of the distribution of illegal content, disinformation, and gender-based violence on the platform, and the efforts that the platform is making to combat the content. X is obliged to reply by the end of the month. It can be assumed that other platforms will receive a similar demand in the coming days, and that these are only the first steps on the way to a wider disclosure of the scope of the problematic information on them and the efforts they are making to combat it.
Breton's and the union's moves only emphasize the lack of public and decisive actions in this regard on the part of the Israeli government. Although Israel does not have the whip of DSA (and here too there is room for criticism that no legislation on the subject has been promoted, even though the importance of dealing with the social media arena has been well known for many years), but there is no obstacle to publicly address the various platforms, to expose their failings, to shame them a little, and demand from them clear answers and decisive and unequivocal steps. At the very least, it can help shine a global spotlight on the problem.