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Award-winning journalist Jessikka Aro: Facebook must fix its Finnish hate speech problem

Helsingin Sanomat
Facebook must fix its Finnish hate speech problem
Facebook must fix its Finnish hate speech problem
This week on Newsmakers, award-winning journalist Jessikka Aro says social media platforms should work hard to fight the sort of hate speech and threats she received during her investigation into Russia's online propaganda army.

Facebook should work harder to take action over hate speech and threats in Finnish on its platform, according to award-winning investigative journalist Jessikka Aro.

She makes the comments on today's episode of Newsmakers, HSTV's weekly English language current affairs show.

"I would like to press Facebook and Twitter's responsibility in this" says Aro, who became the target of repeated hate speech and death threats during the course of her investigation into Russia's online propaganda efforts. "There are trolls which are [...] agitating people to do hate speech, and normalising hate speech".

"Facebook does not react to user reports about hate speech, especially not in Finnish language" says the journalist. "If they (Facebook) make business in Finland, they also have responsibilities in Finland, and they should obey Finnish laws, not to let their platform to be used and abused".

Facebook's community standards guidelines says the company works with law enforcement when they believe "there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety". The California-based company says they remove "credible threats [...] as well as hate speech" directed at private individuals and public figures.

Facebook's Stockholm PR agency tells Newsmakers they have an "extensive team of dedicated experts" who review reports of online abuse in more than 30 languages.

In May, it was reported that Facebook - along with Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter - would sign an EU-backed code of conduct, which aims to review reports of online threats and abuse within 24 hours. The code of conduct is not legally binding.

Aro made her name in Finland by winning the 2015 Finnish Grand Journalism Award for reporting on 'troll farms' in Russia, which seek to influence public and media discussion and opinion via the internet, by pushing a distinctive narrative or targeting anti-Russian sentiment.

"The troll workers work 24/7 and produce pro-Russia and pro-Putin propaganda" explains Aro. "They use fake profiles, so they pretend to be like everyday normal citizens... [and] produce hundreds and hundreds of comments to online forumes, to Facebook, VKontakte, Twitter, also they comment to western media's comments section".

The workers get paid around €500 per month, according to Aro, but it is not clear who ultimately employs them - if it's a specific Russian government ministry, security and intelligence agencies, or wealthy, patriotic, private individuals.

Aro describes the operation as "really disturbing, but a really brilliant idea".

Problems first arose for Aro when she put out an online call for any examples of pro-Russia trolling activities for her investigation. Soon after, pro-Russia internet users began posting disparaging comments about her in English, Russian and Finnish.

"When I started to investigate the trolls" says Aro, "the trolls also started to investigate me":

Accusations that she was a NATO agent, a spy for a Baltic country, a drug dealer or puppet of western intelligence services persisted. Then came the death threats. The whole experience has made her even more wary in her online activities, to protect her own private life and also to protect her sources.

"Now that I've been stalked [...]I've started to do even more tweaking on my privacy settings on every internet platform" she says.

Although Aro has lived and worked in Russia before, she sounds wary when asked if she would go back again. Although she stresses there is no particular information about physical threats to her, she feels "a little bit sad" that the Russia she knows "has been taken away".

Tämä aihe on kiinnostava.

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