Social media platforms complicit in censoring Palestinian voices
As the Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire agreement is reached, social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), continue to be criticized for censoring pro-Palestinian content.
In times of conflict, any form of censorship exercised by major platforms can erase evidence of state-sanctioned violence, human rights violations and potential war crimes against innocent civilians.
This is of particular concern, as evidence of brutality and violence on social media can often be the only form of testimony that takes into account false narratives and massive denial of human rights violations.
Hold platforms to account
According to Al Jazeera, the Palestinian death toll in the recent conflict with Israel stands at 248, including 66 children. At least 12 people have died in Israel, including two children.
On social media, Palestinians and their supporters documented the violence through images and videos, with hashtags in English and Arabic. But activists, digital rights activists and users have called on the platforms on growing evidence of the unwarranted removal of pro-Palestinian content.
Last week, Facebook admitted to incorrectly labeling certain words commonly used by Palestinians online (including “martyr” and “resistance”) as incitement to violence.
Senior Facebook executives apologized to Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in a virtual meeting on May 20, after which a Facebook spokesperson told TIME that Facebook was “actively working to address concerns about our content application ”.
Earlier this month, Instagram and Facebook called Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque associated with “violence or a terrorist organization,” according to a BuzzFeed report. This led to Instagram removing and blocking posts tagged with #AlAqsa or its Arabic counterparts # الاقصى or # الأقصى. A Facebook spokesperson said the posts “were restricted in error.”
In a letter to the Palestinian mission in the UK, Facebook said it would work to resolve content moderation issues and investigate alleged campaigns on the platform to incite violence against Palestinians in Israel.
Read more: When it comes to media reports on Israel-Palestine, there is nowhere to hide
Meanwhile, The Intercept, a US outlet, claimed on May 15 that it obtained internal policies from Facebook that showed the company’s moderation of the term “Zionist” allowed it to suppress criticism of the Israeli state on Facebook. and Instagram.
Due to a lack of transparency regarding content moderation practices, it is not known how much platform censorship has taken place in the current conflict. What little independent information we have comes mainly from a handful of digital rights organizations.
The global digital rights organization Access Now reported receive hundreds of platform accounts deleting pro-Palestinian content on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram.
And the Palestinian digital rights group Sada Social has recorded more than 200 violations of Palestinian social media content related to Sheikh Jarrah’s protests in occupied East Jerusalem. He describes the “violations” as follows:
[…] arbitrary measures against Palestinian content, in particular with the tendency to stigmatize criticism of Zionism with anti-Semitism.
Likewise, the Palestinian and Arab digital rights organization, 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Development of Social Media, documented some 500 cases of Palestinian digital rights violations between May 6 and May 19, as well as the platforms’ responses. . Violations came from Instagram (50%), Facebook (35%), Twitter (11%) and TikTok (1%).
7amleh alleged that in most cases, users were not given an explanation for the content removal or account suspension.
Meetings with Facebook executives
Sada Social released a statement last week accusing Israel of trying “to impose its hegemony over social media platforms.”
The statement follows a meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and executives from Facebook and TikTok. In it, Gantz called on companies to remove Palestinian content that Israel believed would incite violence or spread disinformation.
Shortly after, former Facebook leader Ashraf Zeitoon spoke to Al Jazeera Plus about the historical and ongoing pressure by the Israeli government to censor Palestinian content. He said Facebook consistently complied with pro-Israel claims by systematically silencing Palestinian voices.
A Facebook spokesperson told Al Jazeera Plus:
This person has not worked at Facebook for over four years and has no first-hand knowledge of our decision-making processes during these horrific world events, nor the authority to speak out about our policies or how we are doing them. let’s apply.
Due to a lack of transparency around content moderation, we don’t know to what extent the platform’s censorship is carried out in direct response to user complaints, requests from foreign governments, or as a result of algorithmic decisions.
In response to growing criticism, Facebook last week established a “special operations center” made up of experts including native speakers of Arabic and Hebrew.
The company, which has offices in Israel, has faced increasing criticism from digital rights advocates and activists for its business interests, platform policies and content moderation process.
Facebook has a director of public policy for Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, Jordana Cutler, a former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It does not have a dedicated public policy director for Palestinians. Palestinian issues fall under the purview of its chief policy officer for the Middle East and North Africa.
Last year, Facebook set up an independent watchdog to respond to growing criticism of its role in suppressing online speech. But the legitimacy of the board has been called into question after the controversial appointment of Emi Palmor, former director general of the Cyber Unit of the Israeli justice ministry.
The promulgation of social and political power
Social media platforms can effectively dictate what is allowed in online speech, using opaque and inconsistent moderation processes.
In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the removal of content deemed “offensive”, “graphic” or “inciting” by private companies and oppressive political actors essentially controls how we understand it.
This, in turn, can influence the protection of rights and the ability to prosecute human rights violations. It is a form of oppression that I call the “necropolitan platform”.
It provides a prism through which to understand how businesses and politicians are increasingly working together to control which voices and content are (or not) put online.