Bulgaria cannot deal with Russian information attacks

On December 13, 2022, a group of activists from United Bulgaria For One Cause (BOEC), a non-profit organization, attempted to break into Telus International‘s headquarters in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, which manages content moderation for Meta. They streamed on Facebook and attached printouts of postings and accounts they said had been deleted to the office doors.

BOEC continues to investigate Telus’ manipulations

Telus International is charged by BOEC for obstructing comments that support Ukraine and criticize Russia. They protested after a local publication, Bird.bg, published claims that Telus International was collaborating with pro-Russian billionaires to stifle pro-Ukrainian sentiment on the platform. Telus International disputes these claims. On its Facebook page, the website also publicized the names and pictures of Telus International employees.

The level of criticism against Telus International and Meta in Bulgaria was so high that Marilyn Tyfting, the chief corporate officer of the outsourcing firm, was requested to testify before the Bulgarian parliament on January 26.

“I also want to stress that Telus International does not establish guidelines for content review. Instead, we adhere to the laws and the regulations of our clients,” she added in a prepared statement. In a blog post reacting to allegations of pro-Russian bias in its content filtering, Meta on February 1 stated that the allegations were “false” and that “there is no evidence to corroborate them,” – Marilyn Tyfting.

Meta can’t effectively adapt to manipulation

According to specialists who watch Russian attempts to sway the information environment in Europe, the truth is more complex. Russian propagandists and Kremlin backers have mastered manipulating Meta’s moderation procedures, which are weaker in non-English languages, by mass-reporting content to start reviews that might eventually result in its removal. Pro-Ukraine activists have begun targeting the essentially helpless moderators in charge of enforcing Meta’s regulations due to the lack of transparency around what is removed and why.

The Atlantic Council’s Bulgarian Facebook page has reportedly been banned multiple times after being widely publicized, according to Todor Galev, director of research at the Center for the Study of Democracy, a European public policy think tank. He claims that well-known journalists and media organizations that support the EU and NATO have also had their accounts attacked.

According to a former Meta employee who worked on the company’s content moderation systems and policies and who talked to WIRED under the condition of anonymity, they might at least have specific posts or user accounts highlighted for review. Also, the algorithm will be more likely to identify a particular piece of content in the future the more frequently it is flagged. The former employee claims that a human moderator may be more likely to decide whether to remove the content in languages like Bulgarian, where there is less data on which to train the algorithm, and AI may be less reliable.

AI would be better than biased company

There is a perception in Bulgaria that Meta favors pro-Russian content over pro-Ukrainian content due to the disparity between organized campaigns’ capacity to flag content and individuals’ or small civil society organizations’ ability to report content to human moderators.

The most popular social network in Bulgaria, with 6.87 million users, Facebook is used by little over half of the population. Russian trolls and pro-Russian propaganda have long targeted Bulgaria, especially since the start of the war in Ukraine. Russian disinformation campaigns and supportive local media have promoted a pro-Russian narrative that attributes the war to NATO.

Photo: Photo: Supporters of Pro-Russian party Vazrazdane (Renascence) hold flag of Self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic on protest in front of Council of Ministers building during U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin two days visit in Bulgaria on 19 March, 2022 in Sofia, Bulgaria. Credit: Georgi Paleykov/NurPhoto

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