Facebook Faces Accusations of Palestinian Censorship Again

Technology Policy Brief #102 | By: Mindy Spatt | December 10, 2023

Photo taken from: https://act.jewishvoiceforpeace.org/

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Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has a history of censoring pro-Palestinian content on its platforms.  Now, an announced policy to limit comments on posts related to the war on Gaza and the shutting down of Palestinian news sites and individuals have sparked urgent concerns about censorship and caught the attention of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who tweeted that Instagram’s “reported removal and suppression of Palestine-related content raises serious questions. I’ve got a bill to require more transparency from Big Tech platforms and protect against algorithmic discrimination.”

Analysis

Meta has censored pro-Palestinian content in the past.  Human Rights Watch documented the problem in an October 2021 report, finding that Instagram had removed hundreds of posts about a series of settler attacks on residents of Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, including reposts of content from mainstream news organizations that could not “reasonably be construed” as attempts to incite violence or hatred.

According to The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media (7amelh.org), a non-profit organization that advocates for Palestinian digital rights, the scale of the takedowns and suspensions …[was] egregious and pronounced.”

In response, Meta commissioned a study by the independent consultancy Business for Social Responsibility.  BSR found that that Meta’s action during the Sheik Jarrah attacks had an “adverse” impact on Palestinian users’ freedom of expression, political participation and ability of to share information.  Apparently Meta didn’t learn much from those findings as the company has openly instituted policies limiting comments on posts about the war in Gaza and is once again engaging in widespread blocking of news and information.

Between October 7  and November 14 of this year, 7amelh.org’s Observatory of Human Rights found over 1,447 violations of Palestinian rights, involving both the censoring of Palestinian voices and the flourishing of anti-Palestinian hate speech.  Many of those violations were on Meta’s platforms which, the group says, are over-moderated, shadow-ban Palestinian content, block the Palestinian flag emoji and censor pro-Palestinian hashtags but not pro-Israeli ones.

Journalists and established news sites have also been censored and blocked.  According to the independent Quds News Network, an established site with 10 million followers, their pages in both Arabic and English were deleted from Facebook despite there being no violations of Meta’s standards in the content.  The network had been shut down by Facebook in the past.  Over on Instagram, Let’s Talk Palestine, with 300.00 followers, found it’s account locked.  Al Jazeera has reported that authors, activists, journalists, filmmakers and regular users around the world have said posts containing hashtags like “FreePalestine” and “IStandWithPalestine” as well as messages of support for civilian Palestinians are being blocked.

Amelh.org one is one of 50 human rights and civil society organizations that have called on tech companies to “immediately take strict measures to protect their users from harm in light of the escalating events in the region.”  The groups say current events have “inevitably led to increased discrimination against Palestinian content and a rise in anti-Palestinian racism”, demonstrating “the critical link between the digital realm and the reality on the ground.”

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