By Joe Wright
In a chilling example of how social media has been latched onto by the surveillance state, AFP has reported that a Palestinian man was arrested by Israeli police in the West Bank after posting the message “good morning” in Arabic while standing in front of a bulldozer. Somehow, the Facebook algorithm translated this to mean “attack them” and “hurt them” in Hebrew and English respectively.
Given the fact that the bulldozer the man was standing in front of was part of one of the many Israeli settlements, police apparently took swift action to take the man into custody. Fortunately, the mistake was quickly recognized and acknowledged and led to the man’s release.
No one is yet commenting on how such a simple mistake could have taken place, as AFP notes that the translation has “no apparent similarities” to warrant triggering an alert, let alone police deployment. However, it raises further questions about how invasive and potentially damaging anything we say on social media might become, especially in an increasingly politicized world.
It’s certainly scary enough to believe that an algorithm would ever be linked to real-world police action, but this has been developing around the globe- including the Land of the Free – with various “pre-crime” systems that include social media as one of the components in attempting to judge where crime or unrest could occur. You can read here about how Twitter and Instagram also have been targeted for use in everything from predicting outbreaks, to mental health evaluations, to everyday police work.
Now, with immigration and terrorism being joined together by DHS, we are seeing the roll-out of data collection for all immigrants, including social media. Americans who support such measures have failed to understand that if Americans have communicated overseas, they too might get swept up in a clearly unconstitutional dragnet.
Sadly, situations such as the egregious one in the West Bank, as well as the myriad other “mistakes” that have occurred when falsely flagged by a computer are only set to explode as tech companies are under pressure to act quicker to remove “extremist propaganda.”
The recent meeting between tech giants and the G7 has made it clear that the floodgates have opened for mass censorship, as well as further abuses by the surveillance state, either construed or misconstrued from the most innocuous statements that we might make in our online communications.
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Here is what freedom sounds like within the warped Orwellian minds that are building an architecture of oppression:
“These are the first steps towards a great alliance in the name of freedom,” Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said after a two-day meeting with his Group of Seven counterparts, stressing the role of the internet in extremist “recruitment, training and radicalisation.”
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the goal was to ensure pro-jihadist content “is taken down within two hours of it going online”.
“Our enemies are moving at the speed of a tweet and we need to counter them just as quickly,” acting US Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said.
While acknowledging progress had been made, Britain’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd insisted “companies need to go further and faster to not only take down extremist content but also stop it being uploaded in the first place”.
Senior executives from the internet giants and Microsoft attended the ministerial session devoted to the issue but did not offer any explanation on how they might go about clamping down on web extremists.
As the unfortunate Palestinian man swept up for his “good morning” post can now attest: it is not enough for tyranny to occupy your land, it must also occupy your mind.
Image Credit: Anthony Freda