How the Egyptians use ancient Arabic writing to evade censors
The Egyptians found workarounds like posting in early Arabic characters, which does not include dots, to escape algorithmic censorship on Facebook and Twitter. Websites can help transliterate their text into the old form.
Many Egyptian and Arab social media activists who have expressed solidarity with the Palestinians in Israeli efforts to relocate families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem and Israeli bombing raids in the Gaza Strip have complained about the removal of their publications on the Facebook and Twitter platforms. Many said they were banned from posting for 24 or 48 hours or suspended accounts absolutely.
As violence escalated in the Gaza Strip between Hamas and Israel, it sparked controversy between Egyptian and Arab social media activists and the social media platforms themselves. According to Fady Ramzy, an e-marketing consultant and digital media lecturer at the American University in Cairo, Facebook and Twitter algorithms have reported certain words and hashtags about the events in Gaza.
Ramzy told Al-Monitor that social media users have discovered tricks to avoid algorithmic censorship of Facebook. “This is notably an early Arabic script that quickly gained popularity among social media activists, especially in Egypt. Activists have also started to leave spaces between the letters of a single word or to separate the letters with foreign symbols or other letters, ”he explained.
Ramzy added: “The algorithms on Facebook and Instagram have so far not noticed, but I think they won’t last long. Algorithmic censorship artificial intelligence will discover these tricks in the coming days. When some media activists changed the hashtags they were using for current events to escape algorithmic censorship at the start of the crisis, algorithms quickly began to censor content whether or not the posts support a specific position. … Some accounts have been barred from commenting and others have been temporarily suspended. “
Amro Atifi, professor in the Department of Arabic Language and Literature, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University, told Al-Monitor: “In early Arabic alphabets and characters, words were used without diacritics or dots and included. depending on the context. Dots were placed on the letters during the reign of Al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf over Iraq. This ruling was intended to distinguish the letters of the Noble Quran as many people converted to Islam during this period.
“The recent popularity of the first Arabic script is unlikely to last. It will disappear when the need ceases to exist, ”he said.
Frustrated Egyptian and Arab social media activists have also created online campaigns to lower app ratings from Facebook, Google Play and the App Store, as well as a campaign to boycott Facebook launched May 21.
Media and e-marketing consultant Mohammed al-Harithi agrees that Facebook’s algorithms will soon identify these tricks. He told Al-Monitor: “The Egyptians resorted to the first Arabic script when Facebook started removing Arabic posts or blocking comments that support Palestine. But artificial intelligence learns fast and will uncover tricks used to avoid algorithmic censorship. “
Harithi added that calls to lower Facebook’s ratings will not push officials at the social media platform to review and change algorithms. “Calls to boycott Facebook will not be effective. Facebook, however, could be affected if Arabs stop paying for ads posted on the platform, one of its most important sources of revenue.
Facebook has some 45 million users in Egypt and about 3.7 million Egyptians use Twitter.