Technology’s relationship with human rights is a delicate balancing act. Social media platforms have emerged as pivotal tools for documenting global human rights violations and atrocities. Yet, paradoxically, their automated content moderation systems risk wiping out war crimes evidence, thereby posing obstacles to justice.

AI’s Unintended Consequences

A BBC exposé revealed that tech companies’ artificial intelligence (AI) used for content moderation could unintentionally remove war crimes evidence. While designed to expunge harmful or illegal content, these AI systems often lack the subtlety to differentiate between violence in war zones and human rights violations.

Image of video deleted by social media site.

This issue surfaced recently in Ukraine, where graphic videos documenting civilian attacks were promptly removed upon being uploaded to Facebook and Instagram, despite their potential as war crimes evidence. Analogous occurrences were documented in Syria and Ethiopia.

Tech Companies’ Delicate Balance

YouTube and Meta, Facebook, and Instagram’s parent company maintain that their objective is to create a delicate equilibrium between documenting human rights abuses and safeguarding users from harmful content. They claim exemptions for graphic content when it’s in the public’s interest. However, BBC‘s experiments revealed that these exemptions are often inconsistently applied, leading to the deletion of graphic war footage, even when it holds public interest value.

Call for Nuance in Content Moderation

Meta’s Oversight Board member, Alan Rusbridger, argues for a more nuanced content moderation approach. He advocates for a blend of human judgment and more sophisticated AI, suggesting that the tech industry has been overly cautious.

The removal of such content does more than alter conflict narratives; it carries legal consequences too. Deleted social media content can permanently lose potential evidence for war crimes prosecutions, making it harder to hold culprits accountable. US Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice, Beth Van Schaak, stresses the importance of preserving this content, raising concerns when such information disappears abruptly.