Supporters call on Facebook to end ‘blatant’ Palestinian censorship | Social Media News

Rights groups and Palestine advocates are demanding responses from Facebook after multiple reports that the social media giant censored Palestinian content on its platforms, particularly during the recent Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip and Occupied East Jerusalem.

In one letter To Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on Wednesday, dozens of organizations said they were “irritated and disturbed by the recent censorship of Palestinian users and their followers on your platforms.”

Earlier this month, Palestinian social media users reported that their posts on Facebook and Instagram – which is owned by Facebook – in solidarity with families facing forced evictions from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood had been blocked. , hidden or suppressed.

“Right now, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are often the only tools for protesters and Palestinian residents to share information to protect each other in the face of repression by the Israeli government and police, and during attacks on civilians,” it read. the letter.

“This blatant censorship of Palestinian political content further puts these activists at risk.

Signatories to the letter – including 7amleh, Adalah Justice Project, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Jewish Voice for Peace – demanded that Facebook explain how it enforces its policies, provide data on all referrals and allow independent researchers to review referrals. .

He also asked the company to review its relationship with the Israeli government.

In an email late Wednesday, a Facebook spokesperson told Al Jazeera that the company’s policies “are designed to give everyone a voice while protecting them on our apps, and we enforce those policies in the same way, regardless of who publishes or their personal beliefs”.

The spokesperson said Facebook had met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh to discuss its policies and hear their concerns.

The company has also set up a “special operations center”, the spokesperson said. “We have a dedicated team, which includes Arabic and Hebrew speakers, closely monitoring the situation on the ground, who are focused on removing harmful content, while fixing any application errors as quickly as possible.”

The spokesperson did not specify what constitutes “harmful content”.

‘A significant increase’

Palestinian digital rights group 7amleh previously accused social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and TikTok of collaborating with the Israeli government to censor posts documenting Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians.

Israeli media reported on May 14 that Gantz urged Facebook and TikTok executives at a meeting to act against “misinformation and incitement” on their platforms.

Earlier this month, Instagram said a technical bug affected millions of Stories across the world, when asked about issues with posts. But this explanation has been dismissed by Palestinian digital rights experts.

In one report Last week, 7amleh said it had documented more than 500 reports of digital rights violations against Palestinians between May 6 and May 19, which it described as “a significant increase in censorship of Palestinian political speech and online narratives. “.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press news agency also reported that 17 journalists in Gaza said their WhatsApp accounts had been blocked since Friday, when a ceasefire came into effect to end 10 days of Israeli bombardment. in Palestinian territory and rockets fired at Israel.

As of midday on Monday, only four journalists – working for Al Jazeera – confirmed that their accounts had been restored, the news agency said.

The letter to Facebook comes a day after US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib wrote letters to executives at Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, asking for more information about the removal of posts and what each company’s decision-making process entails.

“With mainstream media reports ignoring and often silencing Palestinian voices, social media has become a crucial source of news, images and videos documenting the injustices Palestinians face,” he said. she writes.

“Palestinians often have nowhere to turn to make their voices heard outside of social media.”

Tlaib also questioned what she called a “worrying double standard” in which pro-Palestinian messages were censored or restricted, while “Israeli extremist groups are allowed to coordinate violent attacks against Palestinians.”

The New York Times reported on May 19, extremist Jewish Israelis had formed at least 100 new WhatsApp groups “for the express purpose of committing violence against Palestinians” amid recent tensions and protests against Israeli violence in East Jerusalem and Gaza.