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U.S. lawmaker seeks answers from Meta, X, Google, TikTok over Israel-Hamas false content

photo of U.S. Senator seeking information on tech about Isreal-Hamas war
U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and other U.S senators unveil legislation that would allow the Biden administration to “ban or prohibit” foreign technology products such as the Chinese-owned video app TikTok during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 7, 2023. (Bonnie Cash for REUTERS)
Disinformation is potent propaganda amid Israel-Hamas war

By Zeba Siddiqui | REUTERS

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet on Tuesday sought information on how tech giants Meta, X, TikTok and Google were trying to stop the spread of false and misleading content about the Israel-Hamas conflict on their platforms.

“Deceptive content has ricocheted across social media sites since the conflict began, sometimes receiving millions of views,” Bennet, a Democrat, said in the letter addressed to the company chiefs.

Visuals from older conflicts, video game footage, and altered documents are among misleading content that has flooded social media platforms since Hamas militants attacked Israeli civilians on Oct. 7.

“In many cases, your platforms’ algorithms have amplified this content, contributing to a dangerous cycle of outrage, engagement, and redistribution,” Bennet said.

The Senator’s comments come after European Union industry chief Thierry Breton blasted the companies, demanding they take stricter steps to battle disinformation amid the escalating conflict.

In his letter, Bennet has posed a series of questions to the companies seeking details on their content moderation practices and sought answers by Oct. 31.

The social media firms have outlined some steps they’ve taken in recent days in response to the conflict. The short video app TikTok said it had hired more Arabic and Hebrew-speaking content moderators. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said it had removed or marked as disturbing more than 795,000 pieces of content in Hebrew or Arabic in the first three days since the Hamas attack. X and Google-owned YouTube both said they had also taken down harmful content.

But Bennet said those actions were not enough.

“The mountain of false content clearly demonstrates that your current policies and protocols are inadequate,” he said in the letter.

Bennet also slammed the four companies for having laid off staff from their trust and safety teams in the past year that were in charge of monitoring for false and misleading content.

Twitter shelved 15% of its trust and safety staff and dissolved a related council in Nov. 2022 after Elon Musk acquired the company, cutting more staff last month, Bennet noted. Meta reduced 100 similar positions in January, while Google reduced by a third a team creating tools to counter online hate speech and disinformation, Bennet said.

“These decisions contribute to a cascade of violence, paranoia, and distrust around the world,” he said.

“Your platforms are helping produce an information ecosystem in which basic facts are increasingly in dispute, while untrustworthy sources are repeatedly designated as authoritative.”

Editor’s note: reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in San Francisco; Editing by Stephen Coates

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