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memri
December 6, 2017 No.
7212

Iraqi Social Media Researcher: Arab Governments Must, Like The U.S. And Europe, Pressure Facebook To Remove Extremist Content

On November 28, 2017, Facebook announced that it had developed technology allowing it to detect and remove 99% of Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda content from its platform before it was reported by users, and that once it was aware of a particular piece of terror content, it could remove 83% of subsequently uploaded copies within an hour of upload.[1] In response, Mohanad Habib Al-Samawi, an Iraqi intellectual with expertise in social media, wrote that Facebook was responding to pressure from the U.S. and European governments to fight the terrorism being circulated on social media, and called on the Arab countries to pressure it also.

In his article, titled "Why Does Facebook Ignore The Arab World?" he stated that the Arab governments were doing nothing to compel the companies that control social media to take action against extremist content, and stressed that since there are millions of Facebook users in the Arab world, the Arab countries hold a significant bargaining chip with which to pressure these companies to comply with their demands to fight terrorist and extremist content on social media.

The following are translated excerpts from Mohanad Habib Al-Samawi's article[2]:  

"The declarations by Facebook, and its announcement regarding terrorist content, are the result of an extensive campaign by legislators in the U.S. and Europe who criticized the lack of seriousness or the ineffectiveness of the handling, by Facebook and the rest of the companies such as Google and Twitter, of content that harms public peace, stability, and unity of the societies in these countries. These countries enjoy security, and economic and social stability and fear events that will harm this stability.

"In response to these pressures, Facebook has begun to take steps, so as to ease the pressure [from elements] in Europe that remain dissatisfied and have begun to plan to tax digital companies for this...

"In light of the struggles between Facebook and the European countries, it is every Arab citizen's right to ask: Where is the Arab world in light of what is going on between Facebook and these countries? What is the Arab world's connection to these companies that control the minds of the young people, take over their areas of interest, and play with the feelings of many of them? Why are we not seeing activity by Arab lobbies regarding these companies? Wouldn't it be more appropriate for Arab countries to criticize Facebook and the [other] companies over the terrorist or inciting content that are circulated on their platforms? Why are Europe and the U.S. more concerned about their people and about terrorist content on social media [than we are]?

"Terrorism has conquered many cities in the Arab world, and brought down governments – yet the Arab governments remain passive in the face of these companies, and we have never seen them demand [a thing] from them, particularly not from the platforms on which terrorist content circulates, via which thousands of terrorist fighters were recruited who have sown destruction in Arab countries, killed hundreds of innocent civilians, and very often succeeded in creating sectarian wars in Arab societies.

"Statistics tell us that in the Arab world, Facebook has over 160 million users, and Twitter has some 12 million users. Likewise, in the Arab world there are 460 million devices accessing the Internet, and in 2018 the number of Internet users will reach 226 million.

"According to some reports, in the Arab region the rate of increase in Internet users and the prevalence of equipment [accessing the Internet] for receiving and circulating information and for interpersonal connections is among the highest in the world...

"These numbers can be used to pressure the companies to comply with demands and [to serve] the interests of the Arab countries, in all things concerning the fight against all extremist content that sparks all forms and types of internal wars...

"We must benefit from Europe's actions vis-à-vis these companies, and how they are threatening them and forcing them to remove extremist content from their platforms and to take real and effective measures. We have seen how, in September, the European Commission demanded that these companies remove all terrorist posts, and said that if they did not, laws would be passed forcing them to take such steps.

"Facebook is a company that is completely commercial, and its profits, which it officially publishes, leave no room for doubt about that. Facebook does not want to lose its market in the Arab world, which includes millions of users. Therefore, our behavior towards it should be based on this principle. Only then will [these] companies comply with the Arabs' demands about the content that threatens public peace and social stability in our countries. 

"If the governments and parliaments in Arab countries understand this, Facebook will not [be able to] ignore them, and will comply with their demands in all things concerning the millions of posts with extremist content that are uploaded to these platforms every hour."

 

[1] Newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/11/hard-questions-are-we-winning-the-war-on-terrorism-online/, November 28, 2017.

[2] Elaph.com, December 2, 2017.