A new study has found that Facebook has failed to post Islamic State group and al-Shabaab extremist content aimed at East Africa as the region is under threat from violent attacks and Kenya to vote in a close national election. is ready.
An Associated Press series last year on leaked documents shared by a Facebook whistleblower showed how the platform repeatedly failed to act on sensitive content, including hate speech, in several places around the world.
The new and unrelated two-year study from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found Facebook posts that openly support IS or Somalia-based al-Shabaab – even those branding al-Shabaab and including Swahili, Somali and Arabic Those calling for violence in languages - were allowed to be shared widely.
The report expresses particular concern with stories involving extremist groups that accuse Kenyan government officials and politicians of being enemies of Muslims, who make up a significant portion of the East African country’s population. The report said that “xenophobia towards Somali communities in Kenya has been prevalent for a long time.”
The al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab has been described as the deadliest extremist group in Africa, and it has carried out high-profile attacks in recent years in Kenya, far from its base in neighboring Somalia. The new study found no evidence of a Facebook post that planned specific attacks, but its authors and Kenyan experts warn that allowing general calls for violence poses a threat to the closely contested August presidential election. Is.
Already, concerns are rising both online and off about hate speech surrounding the vote.
“They erode that trust in democratic institutions,” Mustafa Ayad, the report’s researcher, told the Associated Press about the extremist post.
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue found 445 public profiles, some with duplicate accounts, for sharing content linked to two extremist groups and tagging more than 17,000 other accounts. Shared narratives contained accusations that Kenya and the United States are enemies of Islam, and the posted content praised al-Shabaab’s official media arm for the killing of Kenyan soldiers.
Even when Facebook takes down the pages, they will be quickly reorganized under different names, Ayad said, describing serious lapses by both artificial intelligence and human moderators.
“Why aren’t they taking action on the massive amount of material put up by al-Shabaab?” He asked. “You’d think that after 20 years of dealing with al-Qaeda, they would have a good understanding of the language they used, the symbolism.”
He said the authors have discussed their findings with Facebook and that some accounts have been removed. He said the authors also plan to share the findings with the government of Kenya.
Ayad said civil society and government bodies such as Kenya’s National Counter-Terrorism Center should be aware of the problem and encourage Facebook to do more.
When asked for comment, Facebook requested a copy of the report prior to its publication, which was denied.
The company then responded with an emailed statement.
“We have already removed many of these pages and profiles and will continue to investigate as we become more informed,” Facebook wrote Tuesday, citing security concerns, without giving any names. “We do not allow terrorist groups to use Facebook, and we remove content that praises or supports these organizations when we become aware of it. We have special teams – including native Arabic, Somali and Swahili speakers are included – dedicated to this effort.”
Critics say concerns about Facebook’s monitoring of content are global.
“As we have seen in India, the United States, the Philippines, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, the consequences of failing to moderate the content posted by extremist groups and supporters can be disastrous, and push democracy to the brink. Watchdog The Real Facebook Oversight Board said of the new report, adding that Kenya is currently a “microcosm of everything” with Facebook owner Meta.
“The question is, who should be asking Facebook to step up and do its job?” Leah Kimathi, Kenyan adviser on governance, peace and security, who suggested that government bodies, civil society and consumers could all play a role. “Facebook is a business. At least they can be sure that what they’re selling us isn’t going to kill us.”