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Ukrainian journalism – collateral victim of Big Tech measures

DENIS CHARLET / AFP

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the leading online platforms have announced major measures to combat disinformation that, in practice, have helped to obstruct access to reliable news and information in Ukraine. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the platforms to take journalism’s specificities into account.

Most of the leading platforms have wanted to flex their muscles against disinformation and propaganda since the start of the war in Ukraine. But they have focused on comment moderation and their measures – which have been late and superficial and have not included overhauling their algorithms – have had collateral victims. The reporting of media outlets and journalists has fallen victim to moderation lacking subtlety.

“After doing nothing for years, the platforms have suddenly started to tackle their disinformation problem blindly, and their inappropriate moderation policies have repeatedly harmed Ukrainian journalism,” said Vincent Berthier, the head of RSF’s Tech Desk. “Until platforms agree to use the right tools, they will continue to obstruct journalism and access to information. We call on them to overhaul their moderation policies and rewrite their algorithms. In times of war, journalism must be protected.”

The Ukrainian TV news channel 5 Kanal reported on 17 June that its Facebook page had been deleted because of one of its posts. In an article on its website, the TV channel explained that its description of the abuses that the Russian army could commit was regarded by Facebook’s moderators as incitement to violence. As a direct result, its Facebook page was deleted and 5 Kanal’s more than 538,000 followers were denied access to the content it was posting.

The TV channel’s Facebook page is now accessible again. But the accounts of many journalists are meanwhile exposed to another form of threat. Their accounts may also be “restricted,” meaning that they are liable to disappear from the news feeds of Facebook users, with the result that only those going directly to the restricted pages can see their posts. Livyi Bereg deputy editor Sonia Koshkina experienced this 11 times in eight months on Facebook after posting about the war in Ukraine.

RSF calls on Big Tech companies, especially Meta, to rethink their choice of strategies for combatting disinformation. They must rewrite their algorithms, recruit more specialists and give themselves the technical and intellectual resources they need to be able to identify journalistic content on their platforms.

Media going broke in eastern Ukraine

The harm caused by the platforms is also affecting media outlets’ business models. Andrey Boborykin, the head of the independent media outlet Ukrainska Pravda, reports that Facebook and Google have blocked all sponsorship possibilities in eastern Ukraine’s occupied regions. And, according to Ukrainska Pravda, 57% of Ukrainians get their news from Facebook if they have not been deprived of access to the platform.

Media outlets need sponsors in order to get the attention of Facebook users. Without any possibility of sponsorship, they are condemned to being rendered invisible and therefore bankrupt. This measure is unacceptable because it destroys journalism without affecting disinformation, which does not need to be funded in this way. The platforms must recognise their inability to identify what constitutes journalism. They need to use appropriate tools if they really want to combat disinformation without abusing information.

The Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) is one such tool. Initiated by RSF and developed in consultation with media professionals from all over the world, the JTI is an international standard for certifying media that respect transparency standards and journalistic ethics. It is  recognised by the European Union and is cited in the Code of Practice on Disinformation that will be recommended by the EU’s upcoming Digital Services Act (DSA). The certification criteria used by the JTI include how media are funded and organised and how they produce the news they publish. RSF urges platforms to use the JTI in order to finally promote trustworthy journalism instead of burying it.

RSF

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