X Raises Questions on Content Moderation After Navalny’s Wife Allegedly Banned

Amidst speculation surrounding the banning of Navalny’s wife from X, questions arise over the platform’s content moderation policies in Europe. 

(Photo : Yulia Navalnaya )
Screenshot from Yulia Navalnaya on X

Continuing Alexei Navalny’s Fight

Alexei Navalny, a prominent Russian anti-corruption activist, died under mysterious circumstances in a Siberian penal colony on Feb. 16. While the exact cause of Navalny’s death remains unclear, Western officials have pointed fingers at Russian President Vladimir Putin

Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, fueled speculation further with claims in a video statement. She alleged that Russian authorities may be withholding her husband’s corpse to eliminate evidence of a deadly nerve agent, Novichok.

The video accused Putin of orchestrating her husband’s demise and pledged to continue his work. This development raises concerns about X’s content moderation practices and its implications for freedom of speech in Europe.

In a video shared in Russian language, she conveyed her aspiration for a liberated Russia, emphasizing her desire to live and contribute to its freedom. Following this, Navalnaya rapidly amassed a significant online following, receiving an outpouring of support from thousands of sympathetic messages. 

According to a report from The Guardian, Navalnaya currently resides in a location undisclosed to the public outside of Russia. She established her X account in February and made her inaugural post on the 19th while in Brussels, engaging with EU officials regarding her husband’s passing. 

Facing X Suspension

However, her presence on X encountered a brief suspension on Tuesday, triggering widespread user concern. During the suspension period, allegations circulated, suggesting a connection between owner Elon Musk and sympathies toward Putin.

X’s Safety team later clarified that the account suspension resulted from an error in the platform’s spam detection system, which erroneously flagged @yulia_navalnaya’s account. 

As per Daily Dot, the suspension was promptly lifted upon the team’s realization of the mistake, with assurances of enhancements to the platform’s defense mechanism. X’s announcement does not explicitly indicate whether Navalnaya’s account suspension resulted from an automated system. 

Also read: China, Russia Agree to Coordinate AI Use in Military Technology

However, attributing the suspension to a “defense mechanism” and the pledge to “update the defense” led some information analysts to infer that human intervention was not involved in the initial account shutdown.

This interpretation prompted swift scrutiny from researchers, who questioned the accuracy of attributing the suspension, even implicitly, to an automated decision.

Responding to the statement, Michael Veale, an associate professor of Digital Rights & Regulation at University College London’s Faculty of Laws, expressed skepticism. He noted the irony, given X’s previous claims under the Digital Services Act, that they refrain from automated content moderation.

Implemented by the EU in October 2022, the Digital Services Act (DSA) aims to combat illegal content, ensure advertising transparency, and counter disinformation. 

Among its mandates, the act necessitates platforms to disclose moderation determinations in the DSA Transparency Database, detailing factors like the rationale behind the decision, the content type in question, and whether automation was involved in the decision-making process.

2023 study by the University of Bremen researchers scrutinizing moderation verdicts uploaded to the database for a single day revealed that X exclusively relied on human moderation for its decisions.

Consequently, X reported significantly fewer moderation determinations than other platforms during the observed period.

Related Article: Vladimir Putin’s Unusual New Year’s Message Sparks Death Rumors: Is ‘AI Putin’ Behind the Speech?

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