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Drowning in the Flood: ISOC-IL Releases New Study Documenting Social Media Platforms’ Failure to Enforce Safety Policies

“Drowning in the Flood”

Social Media Platforms’ Management of Harmful and Pro-Terror Content During the October 7th Attack and the Israel-Hamas War

A new empirical study, based on data from the Israel Internet Association’s Internet Safety Hotline, evaluates the effectiveness of major social media platforms’ moderators in addressing the recent surge in abusive and harmful online content. As an unprecedented wave of gruesome images and disinformation flooded social media on October 7th and during the ensuing war, the platforms proved either unable or unwilling to take necessary steps to protect their users. The study reveals significant discrepancies between the platforms’ promises and their actual performance.

Graph: Instances of Various Forms of Harmful Content Reported by Hotline to Each Platform

Instances of Various Forms of Harmful Content Reported by Hotline to Each Platform

This newly released report examines how social media platforms responded to threats and hostilities targeting Israeli users during the first two months of the war. Recognized as a Trusted Flagger by most platform safety teams, our Internet Safety Hotline processed thousands of reports on harmful, toxic, false, and graphic content. In response, the Hotline submitted hundreds of removal requests for content that explicitly violated platform policies, including support for terrorism, incitement, graphic violence, and false information.

The report provides an empirical and comprehensive analysis of the platforms’ responses during the initial months of the war. It evaluates response times, the nature and quality of responses, and whether the platforms’ actions aligned with their public statements pledging to address online threats in the wake of the Hamas attacks.

For the full English-language report, visit: https://en.isoc.org.il/policy-community/policy-papers/oct7-social/drowning-in-the-flood.

The findings are deeply troubling. Response times were exceedingly slow, with little to no action on weekends. The handling of content requiring manual review or contextual understanding was notably poor, revealing significant differences between content types and across different platforms. Meanwhile, a similar study conducted in Ukraine shows that platforms are capable of effectively combating online abuse in times of crisis, yet this capability did not manifest in Israel and other crisis zones.

Graph: Percentage of Responses by Day of Week for Each Platform

Percentage of Responses by Day of Week for Each Platform

Our study offers a comprehensive set of recommendations for preserving social media users’ well-being and emphasizes that responsibility lies not only with the platforms but also with governments and legislators, who permit these companies to operate with minimal transparency and accountability. The study underscores the urgent need for change and provides practical recommendations applicable not only in violent conflicts and disasters but also as standard practice globally to ensure user safety.

Summary of the Study’s Recommendations

1 For Social Media Platforms

Special plans for conflict and war

  • Expansion of days and hours of operation
  • Adapting moderation mechanisms to deal with a continuous flow of content
  • Shortening response times
  • Prioritizing Trusted Flaggers
  • Improving user reporting mechanisms

Dealing with disinformation and fact-checking

  • Expansion of cooperation with local entities
  • Improving reporting mechanisms and response to emergency-related false content in real time
  • Making information and tools accessible to research and academic institutions

Strengthening the relationship with recognized and local Trusted Flaggers

  • Training and feedback for local Trusted Flaggers
  • Development, enhancement and provision of technological tools
  • Increased attention to reports
  • Increasing public transparency

2 For Lawmakers and Government Authorities

  • Require platforms to maintain high levels of service and availability
  • Require platforms to understand local language and context
  • Demand transparency
  • Investing in education and digital literacy awareness

3 For Academia, Media and Civil Society

  • Strengthen information collection and monitoring capabilities
  • Collecting performance data and tracking platform performance
  • Increase pressure on the platforms and representing public demands
  • Intensify civil and media activity against false content on social media

The comprehensive list of recommendations and the full-length study are available here.

For additional information and collaborations, contact our International Department: [email protected]