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Social media platforms are destroying evidence of war crimes

A video clip showing a murder was recently posted on Facebook by The Economist magazine in 2016. A year later, the International Criminal Court issued the first-ever warrant based on video clips posted by the perpetrators of war crimes themselves on social media.

The memorandum called for the arrest of Mahmoud al-Warfali, the Libyan warlord, and accused him of being involved in the killing of 33 people in 7 incidents that appeared in Facebook videos.

The magazine stated that although Al-Werfalli has not yet appeared before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, his arrest warrant has marked a turning point. For the first time, not only will videos and photos posted on social media be used to draw the world’s attention to war crimes, but they can provide hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

Emma Irving, a human rights expert at Leiden University, wrote in a blog post at the time that “these clips provide many potential evidence. Nevertheless, the use of social media evidence raises real problems despite its importance.”

Given the difficulty and risk of gathering evidence in war zones, such footage is likely to provide prosecutors with new leads or help confirm eyewitness reports and other evidence. Fighters who brag about their heroism on Facebook are also more likely to unintentionally reveal their sites through metadata in photos or even their intentions. This boasting may provide evidence to prosecutors, which was considered a necessary component to ensure a successful trial.

Delete evidence

Sometimes, when prosecutors asked to provide evidence, it turned out that much of it had been deleted. For its part, Human Rights Watch reviewed the evidence links it obtained from social media platforms in its reports between 2007 and 2020, most of which were published in the last five years, and found that 11% of the sources it used as evidence of human rights violations have disappeared. .

The magazine confirmed that the Syrian Archive, a non-profit organization that monitors and analyzes evidence of human rights violations in Syria, estimates that of the approximately 1.75 million videos about Syria uploaded to YouTube as of June 2020, 21% are no longer available. About 12% of the tweets that I documented on Twitter, which amounted to nearly one million tweets, have also disappeared.

It is likely that this is not due to the deletion of some of this content by the users themselves, but by giant technology companies such as Facebook and Twitter, for good reasons such as protecting users from extremist or shocking content.

Many companies – under pressure from activists and governments – have sprouted strict policies to remove content, but given the lack of regulation, about what happens to the content that social platforms remove, it is not certain that a copy will be preserved if it is needed at a later time as evidence.

Social media companies are increasingly using algorithms that delete content before it reaches the public.Among the content that Facebook removed for violating community standards, between January and March 2020, 93% were banned through automated systems, and not by supervisors to remove content. The offender. Half of that material was removed before any user could see it.

The magazine concluded by saying that human rights groups stressed that online platforms should be committed to preserving the deleted content, or passing it to an independent archive. For example, had the Syrian Archive not collected copies of the videos and tweets showing the violations, much of this evidence would have been lost, and with it any hope for justice for the many of those who risked their lives in order to record these videos.

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