Meta’s Censorship of Palestinian Content Is ‘Systemic,’ Human Rights Watch Says

Meta engaged in “systemic online censorship” and its “policies and practices silenced voices for Palestine” amid the crisis. war in Gazaaccording to a new report from Human Rights Watch.

In the 51-page study Published on Wednesday, the human rights organization concluded that the tech giant’s content moderation policies have “censored or otherwise improperly removed” more than 1,000 accounts of “peaceful content” on Instagram and Facebook .

“Meta’s policies and practices have silenced voices for Palestine and Palestinian human rights on Instagram and Facebook in a wave of increased social media censorship amid hostilities between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups that have started on October 7, 2023,” we can read. The report.

HRW called the censorship of this content “systemic and global,” acknowledging that while “Meta allows a significant amount of pro-Palestinian expression and denunciations of Israeli government policies” on its platforms, this does not take away from “the unjustified restrictions on peaceful activities.” content” which were well documented since the start of the conflict in Gaza in October.

A Meta spokesperson responded to Mashable’s request for comment on the report, saying “the implication that we are deliberately and systematically suppressing a particular voice is false.”

In the study, HRW identified six patterns of “unwarranted censorship”, classified into distinct categories:

  • Deleting posts, stories and comments

  • Suspension or permanent deactivation of accounts

  • Restrictions on the ability to interact with content, such as liking, commenting, sharing and reposting stories, for a specific period of time, ranging from 24 hours to three months.

  • Restrictions on being able to follow or tag other accounts

  • Restrictions on the use of certain features, such as Instagram/Facebook Live, monetization and recommending accounts to non-subscribers

  • “shadow ban”, a significant reduction in the visibility of an individual’s posts, stories, or account, without notification, due to a reduction in the distribution or reach of content or disabling account searches.

HRW identified these trends after reviewing 1,050 cases in 60 countries of “peaceful pro-Palestinian content that was censored or improperly removed,” according to the report. The study also incorporated research from international organizations, including 7amleh, the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, and Access Now.

Meta-Litigation Report Findings

A Meta spokesperson responded to Mashable regarding the report, calling it “misleading.”

“This report ignores the realities of applying our policies globally during an intense, highly polarized and rapidly evolving conflict, which has led to an increase in content reported to us. Our policies are designed to give everyone a voice. while at the same time time ensure the security of our platforms,” we can read in the press release.

“We readily acknowledge that we make mistakes that may be frustrating for people, but the implication that we are deliberately and systematically suppressing any particular voice is false. Claiming that 1,000 examples – among the enormous amount of content posted on the conflict – are evidence of” “Systemic Censorship” may make a good headline, but that doesn’t make the claim any less misleading.

Although calculating the total number of posts about the Gaza war on social media platforms is a daunting task, for context, X said it published more than 50 million posts in a single weekend..

The spokesperson also said Meta is the only company “in the world that has publicly released human rights due diligence on issues related to Israel and Palestine.”

“We made this due diligence public in 2022, and also published a updated September 2023“, the press release said.

In its report, HRW pointed the finger at Meta Dangerous Organizations and Individuals (DOI) policy, which bans organizations and individuals that tout “a violent mission,” as one of the fundamental problems in these censorship cases. This policy, according to HRW, “stifles debate around Israel and Palestine” and has been used in some cases to “falsely flag protected expression.”

Meta referred to his plans to review the company’s DOI policywhich was included in the company’s September update.

“The HRW report ignores this September 2023 update of human rights due diligence, in which we made clear that we aimed to update our relevant policies on praising or glorifying violent acts, including our policy on dangerous organizations and individuals, in H1 2024,” the company spokesperson told Mashable.

Meta’s Recent Actions Face Scrutiny and Complaints

Previous studies I discovered that Meta had a history of suppression and/or censorship of discussions on issues related to Palestine and Israel on its platforms. From the attack against Israel orchestrated by Hamas on October 7, and the subsequent bombing and siege of the Gaza Strip by Israel, which resulted in more than 20,000 civilian casualtiesHRW claims that Meta has “voices increasingly silenced” publication in solidarity with Palestine on its platforms.

“Meta’s censorship of pro-Palestinian content adds insult to injury at a time of unspeakable atrocities and repression that are already stifling Palestinian expression,” said Deborah Brown, Acting Deputy Director of Technology and Human Rights of HRW, in a press release.

“Social media provides a vital platform for people to speak out and speak out against abuses, while Meta’s censorship contributes to the erasure of Palestinian suffering. »

In many cases, as Mashable reported, users claimed that their posts raising awareness about the situation in Gaza had been removed or banned on Instagram and Facebook. A pro-Palestinian Instagram account, known for posting information on the ground from Gaza, was confirmed to be locked by Meta for “security reasons”; in another case, app biographies that featured the Palestinian flag were automatically mistranslated read “Palestinian terrorists fight for their freedom”. Meta apologized for the latter issue and fixed it, but did not explain why it happened. Meta property WhatsApp was also criticized in November for reports of AI-generated Palestinian stickers depicting children holding weapons.

In its report, HRW also criticized Meta’s policies as “inconsistent and flawed,” and said the company’s heavy reliance on automated tools for content moderation was a major contribution to the censorship cases studied. In other cases, according to the report, “many users recorded evidence of anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic content that remained online even after reporting it to Instagram and Facebook, in the same post where the initial comment from users has been deleted”.

“Instead of tired excuses and empty promises, Meta should demonstrate that it is serious about tackling Palestine-related censorship once and for all by taking concrete steps towards transparency and repair,” Brown said.

To fulfill its human rights due diligence responsibilities, HRW calls on Meta to consistently improve transparency and ensure that decisions to censor or remove content are not sweeping or biased . The organization also said Meta should improve transparency around government requests to remove or restrict content, such as what HRW called “aggressive.” requests to remove content from the Israeli government and his Cyber ​​Unit to social media companies.

Elsewhere, other platforms like X (officially Twitter) and AI platforms such as ChatGPT and Bard from Googlehave been accused of disinformation and repression as the crisis in Gaza reaches new heights.

On the internet – and often in response to digital suppression – people began expressing solidarity with Palestine in whatever way they could. This includes participate in digital ralliesand the use of watermelon emojis 🍉 And TikTok Filters for Fundraising.

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