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Albania demands action from TikTok, Meta over crime, hate speech

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The Albanian government has called on social media platforms, including Meta and TikTok, to crack down on illegal activities such as revenge porn, bullying and facilitating human smuggling, demanding tougher measures and adequate monitoring capacity in the Albanian language.

In 2022, around 12,000 Albanians crossed the Channel to the UK in small boats, causing an uproar between the governments in Tirana and London. Many of those who made the crossing had bought a ‘ticket’ after seeing advertisements posted by traffickers on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, promising a safe crossing and a great life in the UK.

While crossings have dropped by some 90% in the last year, the British government announced this week it would invest around £380,000 in counter-advertising on social media, imploring Albanians to stay away or only attempt to come to the UK through legal means.

They also plan to engage Albanian influencers to spread messages to dissuade potential migrants.

But it is not just human smuggling that is taking place through TikTok. In recent months, Albania has counted two suicides linked to the platform.

In January, Bedrie Loka, a mother of four, committed suicide after someone opened an account in her name and posted several sensitive images accompanied by humiliating and abusive comments. While questions have been raised about her relationship with her husband and his possible involvement, it is known that she had reported the TikTok account to the police, but no action was taken.

Just a month later, Sibela Abedini also committed suicide after an intimate photo of her was shared across the platform, also likely related to a conflict with an intimate partner.

The two incidents accelerated an already prominent public discourse on the damage social media is inflicting on users, including youth, and the prevalence of bullying and mental health issues related to their use.

Prime Minister Edi Rama met with TikTok’s deputy director general, Theo Bertram, at the Munich Security Council over the weekend. In a post on Facebook, he said they discussed recent events and the need to combat violence, extortion and hate speech online.

“We discussed with full understanding the recent events in Albania and the need to increase vigilance against violence, blackmail and hate speech online, as well as we got to know the measures being taken by the company to increase the level of moderation of messages in the Albanian language,” Rama said.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Taulant Balla announced he met with Jakub Olek, the director of public policy and government relations for central and eastern Europe for TikTok, earlier this week.

“I expressed our concerns over the recent events and the need to increase vigilance against violence, disinformation, blackmail and the language of online hate,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Balla said he had requested detailed information on the storage and use of TikTok users’ data, as well as requesting permanent contact with the Albanian State Police. He also called for TikTok to respond better to cases reported by the national authorities.

He added that social media platforms need adequate capacity to respond to complaints about content in different languages, in this case, Shqip, the Albanian language. This is essential to prevent networks from being used for illegal behaviour and to protect minors.

“The Ministry of the Interior is carefully studying the legal improvements undertaken by the European Union, such as the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act”, added Balla, calling for the creation of a digital space in Albania where basic rights and obligations of users are protected and clearly defined.

Deputy Interior Minister Besfort Lamallari also confirmed that meetings with Meta, behind Facebook and Instagram, were in the pipeline.

“We must not wait for the next victim…We have had contact with these organisations such as Meta and TikTok to share with them our concerns and have measures taken. We have notified them and they have reacted. Very soon, we will have meetings to discuss the measures,” he said.

(Alice Taylor | Euractiv.com)

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