Palestinians criticize social media ‘censorship’
(MENAFN – Gulf Times) With Twitter accounts deleted and content blocked on Instagram, Palestinian social media users say they have been censored for not showing the reality of the unrest in Jerusalem.
The eastern part of the holy city has been hit by the worst violence since 2017, with clashes centered around the Al Aqsa Mosque since Friday.
Tensions have since escalated into a full-scale military confrontation, in which groups fired rockets and Israel launched airstrikes on targets in the coastal enclave of Gaza.
The tensions, which the United Nations says are heading towards “full-scale war,” were sparked by the impending evictions of Palestinian families to make way for Israeli settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem.
On social media, Palestinians widely shared photos and videos of Israeli forces clashing with residents, which Amnesty International has denounced as “illegal and abusive use of force” against “largely peaceful” protesters.
Social media remains an important tool for Palestinians, many of whom believe traditional media coverage does not sufficiently capture the reality of the crisis.
Sada Social, a platform designed to protect content shared by Palestinians online, registered 200 restrictions last week on issues related to Sheikh Jarrah and East Jerusalem.
“This includes shutting down accounts on Twitter or Instagram or blocking features on Instagram, such as streaming live video, or restricting access to content related to Sheikh Jarrah, Gaza or Jerusalem,” he said. director Eyad Rifai.
A Twitter spokesperson said it was canceling the action against accounts targeted “in error by an automated spam filter.” “Defending and respecting the voice of people who use our service is one of our core values on Twitter,” said the statement sent to AFP.
We use a combination of technology and human scrutiny to enforce the Twitter rules across the service. In this case, our automated systems took enforcement action on a number of accounts in error ”.
Instagram, meanwhile, blamed a “technical bug that affected millions of stories, highlights and archives around the world,” including Palestinians who saw their content “disappear.”
Likewise, the Arab hashtag Al Aqsa was “mistakenly restricted” in an action that has since been “lifted,” said a spokesperson for Facebook, which owns the platform.
“We sincerely apologize for both these issues, and to all, including our Palestinian community, who felt that their ability to have an open discussion on important issues was affected in any way.”
But Palestinian netizens are still reporting restrictions, said Marwa Fatafta, Middle East and North Africa head of digital activist group Access Now.
“On Friday evening, during the Israeli assault on worshipers at Al Aqsa Mosque, Facebook restricted the hashtag ‘Al Aqsa’ and the streaming of live videos on Instagram was interrupted or blocked for many users,” said Fatafta.
She added that Twitter had also suspended dozens of accounts, including that of Palestinian journalist Mariam Barghouti, “as she covered a violent Israeli crackdown on protesters near Ramallah” in the occupied West Bank.
“These arbitrary ‘technical errors’ tend to occur at peak times when militants share information and document Israeli aggression,” said Fatafta, which called for transparency and an investigation.
Barghouti’s Twitter account, with more than 50,000 followers, has since been restored.
Rifai, of Sada Social, accused the Israeli government of partnering with major social networks to “crack down on Palestinian digital content,” but said it was the first time the restrictions became widespread.
“It is a very serious situation that prevents us as Palestinians from enjoying our digital rights like other users of these sites around the world,” he said.
Rifai said some deleted accounts have been restored on Twitter, but the process is “still ongoing.”
In a statement on Sunday, Instagram said the same restrictions affected content related to protests in Colombia and the rights of indigenous communities in Canada and the United States.
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