Twitter saw a surge in demands over the course of last year from governments around the world to take down content posted by journalists and news outlets, data to be released by the social media platform will show for the first time. Photo: File
Twitter saw a surge in demands over the course of last year from governments around the world to take down content posted by journalists and news outlets, data to be released by the social media platform will show for the first time. Photo: File

New Twitter transparency report is not enough - SA social media law expert

By BR Reporter, Reuters Time of article published Jul 16, 2021

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Twitter saw a surge in demands over the course of last year from governments around the world to take down content posted by journalists and news outlets, data to be released by the social media platform will show for the first time.

In its transparency report, Twitter said verified accounts of 199 journalists and news outlets on its platform globally were subject to 361 legal demands from governments to remove content in the second half of 2020, an increase of 26% from the first half of the year.

The new details in Twitter's biannual report on its enforcement of policy rules and the information and removal requests it receives comes as Twitter and other social media companies, including Facebook and Alphabet’s YouTube, are facing scrutiny from governments around the world over the content allowed on their platforms.

FAKE LOOTING VIDEOS IN SA

In recent weeks, there has been a staggering amount of fake social media posts showing looting and violent protests in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

A number of videos, plastered on social media sites and groups, have been debunked by experts and even community members to be old or manufactured from other events.

Today, residents in Cape Town were warned that rumours, fake news and false posts on social media were fodder for those that seek to destabilise the province.

Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell said that the province’s Disaster Management Centre (PDMC) would be working around the clock to provide verified information of social unrest.

These fake posts are fuel for would-be looters itching to emulate criminals in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, Bredell added.

“The ongoing proliferation of fake news via old photos or voice notes is leading to distress amongst the public and making our work harder as we try to ensure the situation remains under control in the Western Cape.

“SAPS and the PDMC are aware of multiple messages going around relating to – amongst others - alleged threats to various malls in the City of Cape Town and elsewhere in the province. This includes messages on official letterheads known as early warnings,” Bredell said.

The proliferation of fake news and the new report by Twitter has led Business Report to investigate the ramifications of these posts. What does it really mean in the SA context? Is the report enough?

We spoke to Sarah Hoffman, a social media lawyer and Co-founder of KLikd, about the new Twitter report.

Hoffman said, “the report comes as no surprise in light of the proliferation of fake news and hate speech we have seen on the platform, particularly over the last year.”

The social media lawyer argues that Twitter needs to do more.

“Taking down content is one thing, and providing information on account holders in order to pursue legal action is another.”

“In my own experience, Twitter makes both of these things really difficult for the average man on the street. I would be interested to see what the report says about the delineation between responding to legal requests or ’takedown requests’ from governments around the world vs ordinary individuals.

HOW OTHER COUNTRIES ARE REACTING

Cuba began restricting access to Facebook and messaging apps like Telegram amid widespread anti-government protests. Last month, Nigeria banned Twitter's service from the country and ordered television and radio stations not to use the platform to gather information.

Twitter said in the report India was now the single largest source of all information requests from governments during the second half of 2020, overtaking the US, which was second in the volume of requests.

The company said globally it received over 14 500 requests for information between July 1 and Dec. 31, and it produced some or all of the information in response to 30% of the requests.

Such information requests can include governments or other entities asking for the identities of people tweeting under pseudonyms.

Twitter also received more than 38 500 legal demands to take down various content, which was down 9% from the first half of 2020, and said it complied with 29% of the demands.

Twitter has been embroiled in several conflicts with countries around the world, most notably India over the government's new rules aimed at regulating content on social media. Last week, the company said it had hired an interim chief compliance officer in India and would appoint other executives in order to comply with the rules.

In the updated transparency report, Twitter added that the number of impressions, or views of a tweet, that violated Twitter's rules accounted for less than 0.1% of impressions for all tweets globally in the second half of 2020, the first time the platform has released such data.

Like other social media companies, Twitter has struggled to police hate speech, misinformation and other abuses on its service, with chief executive Jack Dorsey among the tech leaders who appeared in a hearing before Congress in March on misinformation.

BUSINESS REPORT

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