Researcher: Algorithms Can’t Be Blamed For Misinformation, But They Help: Broadband Breakfast

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 — A lack of cultural understanding from Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms is a major reason for inaccurate content moderation in Iran, Middle Eastern experts have said. .

Moreover, and they said, Iran’s proposed international internet replacement, the National News Network, is dangerously close to coming into effect.

Speaking during a Thursday event of the Atlantic Council designed to draw attention to the current status of social media in Iran, a human rights expert says that Big Tech’s chronic misunderstanding of the Persian language leads to censorship of content which is either entertainment-based or published by Iranian activists.

Panelists at the event also highlighted a new report “Iranians on #SocialMediaas a source of inspiration for the discussion.

Facebook “needs someone who actually understands what’s happening on the ground,” said Simin Kargar, Human Rights and Technology Fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab. Because the company does not employ or contract with such people, Kargar said, the platform and its sister Instagram inappropriately censor posts in the country.

Due to the platforms’ neglect to understand and adapt to local concerns, the people of Iran are not benefiting from the internet.

And – because Iran also heavily monitors and censors the internet within its borders, the Iranian people end up being embarrassed by the double whammy of Iranian censorship and Facebook, Kargar said.

Iranian censorship and Facebook censorship

Mahsa Alimardani, a researcher from human rights organization Article19, agreed that language-based misconceptions are a dangerous enemy. She made the comment when asked what America could do to help and whether US sanctions had played a role in increasing content moderation.

All of the event’s panelists said that while US sanctions on Iran have an impact on the internet in the country, they are not responsible for what is currently happening in Iran.

However, Alimardani also accused Meta, the new corporate name of the company that runs Facebook and Instagram, of inappropriate and excessive content moderation.

She said Facebook is currently flagging anything related to the Iranian guard after the Trump administration created a list of dangerous people who should be restricted on social media. She disagree that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be listed as a foreign terrorist organization.

Is the National Information Network a new model for authoritarian regimes?

The National News Network, the new censored internet that Iran is currently working to set up, was due to launch in March. Alimardani said she believed the release would be postponed due to disagreements over who in government would control content moderation and the impact the firewall might have on Iranian tech companies.

Alimardani highlighted the unique nature of Iranian law that created the national internet. Instead of being voted on by Iran’s parliament, the legislative body only postponed action on creating a permanent national internet after an experimental period with the firewall, she said.

Yet the government has pushed its own online streaming and video platforms. These platforms are part of the government’s attempt to encourage a national Iranian “internet”.

Throw cheap broadband into a censored internet to sweeten the pot?

Essentially, Kargar said, the government is promising more bandwidth for less through the National Information Network. The new network is also attractive to Iranian consumers as the NIN will be mostly in the country’s main dialect.

Holly Dagres, a non-resident member of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs and the author of “Iranians on #SocialMedia”, also spoke on the NIN. She said it would take Iran back to the Middle Ages and also limit communication with other Iranians and the outside world.

Sharon D. Cole