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Commentary: Online social networks censor photos of Syrian war, ignore dissemination of hatred

7.12.2016 13:14
PHOTO:  Flickr.com
PHOTO: Flickr.com

Recently Facebook covered over a couple of photographs that appeared on my profile with a grey rectangle because they were not appropriate for children. One photo, from wartime Aleppo, showed the corpse of a child with his leg bent at a right angle at the tibia and other corpses mutilated by a bomb explosion after an attack by Assad's army and the Russians.

These photographs show us the actual situation in Aleppo. The mainstream media rarely show it.

The media far prefer to report about these battles and human lives through the numbers and empty phrases of various "security analysts" who are more or less indifferent to the life of the people in the war. The direct consequences of this war - or rather, the atrocities being committed by the establishment - are probably not appropriate for actual broadcast.

From Syria, testimonies are gradually arriving that Assad and the Russians are not attacking rebels or terrorists from DAESH, but primarily the civilian population, using both chemical weapons and regular ones. Everybody is arguing about where Assad got the chemical weapons that he is now deploying.

Among some Kurds and Syrians there are even speculations that the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein managed to hide his chemical weapon stocks from the Americans by delivering them to Assad, which is why the coalition was not able to find any in Iraq. War and its horrors usually involve harsh realities, as well as such speculations and haggling over what is really going on - but that doesn't mean there might not be a bit of truth to the guesswork.

If we were to lighten the mood for a moment, we might recall the saying that, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you." The reality of Syrians today includes the acknowledgment that the West is not aiding them, or at least not aiding them so much that they might finally stop dying after all these years and might soon be able to govern themselves as they imagine and wish to do.

Syrians are also growing accustomed to the fact that the political leadership of the European Union and the United States of America speak beautifully about the right to life, about solidarity with the suffering, and about other values, but for the most part that is where their efforts end - with talk. Most refugees are also gradually losing hope of returning to Syria after the war - they fled Assad, his cruelty and recklessness, and as long as he rules, they will not return.

The refugees speak of Assad and his father, who ruled Syria before him, as mass murderers. These people probably know what they are talking about because they have personal experience of the Assad clan's regime.

Syrians living in the Czech Republic - whether they are Christians, Druze or Muslims (Shiite or Sunni) - say that as long as Assad rules on, they have nowhere else to go. Syria was, before the war, a secular state with many religions, but nobody knows what it will be like after the war, and nobody knows whether its current territory will remain intact or not.

The main thing is that the end of the war is nowhere in sight. The world apparently does not want to even see the consequences of the conflict.

Alibis growing

What's bad is that the alibis of Western mainstream media outlets and politicians are now being repeated by online social networking sites, and the powerlessness of the Syrians (and not just them), is growing to gigantic proportions because of this. "This photo is being hidden because it captures content that is for adults only, such as a realistic depiction of violence," Facebook has written to me about the photographs of the aftermath of the bomb explosion in Aleppo.

When that same online social networking site is asked to delete racist death threats, or expressions of approval of the Holocaust and calls for a new one, in other words, when they are supposed to cope with the dissemination of hatred connected with calls for violence, they resist doing so for a damned long time before taking action. Photographs of real-world violence that has already taken place, though, are overlaid with these rectangles within the course of several hours, automatically.

It is possible to say that by doing this, the operators of these online social networks are just further feeding today's chaotic, confused world, in which facts and reality are of no value, but other impressions that shape our "truth" today are what matters. The world is not governed by a desire to know reality today, but by attempts to filter what we know of the world to match our own negative emotions.

The behavior of the online networks is rapidly increasing this tendency. Fortunately, the European Commission is now coming forward with a good and necessary counter-initiative that might impact Internet service providers.

Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová of the Czech Republic has warned Internet companies that they must expend greater efforts to combat hate speech online, because what they are doing now to "fight" this phenomenon is not enough. If the companies don't improve, the Commission is prepared to adopt the relevant norms to legally force them to change their approach.

The firms should focus especially on removing hateful content faster. Responsibility falls primarily on the Internet giants such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube.

A Commission report warns, among other things, that these firms are not expending enough efforts to cope with their users' hate speech fast enough. The deletion of racist posts, for example, is happens too slowly.

"If Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft want to convince me and the various ministries that an approach without additional law can work, they will have to take rapid action and demonstrate more effort in the months to come," Jourová said. It seems, therefore, that aid may arrive this time from the European Commission, i.e., from an institution we are accustomed to abusing.

This demonstrates that the Commission is also able to come up with useful ideas. If their efforts affect the behavior of the Internet service providers, that will aid us all, including the suffering Syrians.

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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European Commission, Facebook, Internet, Syria



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