Young Palestinians turn to the internet as one of the few places where they can roam freely in a virtual reality world. However, even that is now under attack as they and their supporters face mass surveillance and by "digital occupation" forces working for the likes of Facebook and other social network sites.
Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg will testify next week before the US Congress on the data scandal and privacy issues engulfing the social media giant. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Facebook head will be challenged and questioned in minute detail by US politicians about Cambridge Analytica and its alleged abuse of data to influence polls, but it remains to be seen if they will even touch on the issue of the abuse encountered by Palestinian and pro-Palestine Facebook users. I think it is fair to say that it is highly unlikely.
That's why a vocal group of Jewish pro-Palestine activists has launched a global campaign to put Zuckerberg under pressure with the message "Stop Blocking Palestine". Citing this report, Jewish Voices for Peace says that every 71 seconds a post inciting hatred against Palestinians is uploaded online; in total, around 445,000 social media posts calling for violence against Palestinians, using hate speech or cursing them were uploaded in 2017 alone. The shocking statistics have been compiled by the Arab Centre for the Advancement of Social Media.
While Congress might ignore the data which exposes astonishing levels of hatred towards Palestinians, the findings of the report based on Palestinian digital activism for 2017 have provoked a strong reaction from the Jewish pressure group and other pro-Palestine activists.
"It's demoralising and terrifying," said Ari Wohlfeiler, JVP's Deputy Director. "New research shows that 1 in 9 Facebook posts written about Palestinians contains a call for violence or a curse. And In Israel, hate-filled anti-Palestinian posts go up every 71 seconds!" Incredibly, he pointed out, Facebook removes 10,000 pro-Palestinian posts each year, thanks to an extraordinary agreement with the Israeli government.
Ironically, Facebook claims that its mission is to bring the world closer together. "And yet," added Wohlfeiler, "Facebook is actively pulling Israel-Palestine apart."
Now JVP has decided to target what it sees as Zuckerberg's and Facebook's "hypocrisy" by launching a global petition to stop Facebook from blocking Palestinians and their supporters.
Apart from challenging the hate speech against Palestinians, JVP accuses Facebook of doing some "dirty work" for the Israeli government. Calling for people to sign the petition, Wohlfeiler noted that Facebook has shut down hundreds of Palestinian media and activists' accounts recently, including the controversial Safa Palestinian Press Agency, which has 1.3 million followers.
"The justification for this muzzling is to stop 'incitement' under an agreement where Facebook acts as the enforcer of Israel's apartheid laws that lumps activists together with terrorists to shut down dissent. And the Israeli government isn't shy about getting Facebook to do its dirty work: its own stats show that they've asked for 12,000 posts to be taken down."
When he receives the petition from JVP, Zuckerberg will be told that Facebook has become a "de facto" enforcer of the Israeli government's apartheid laws: "…As Facebook users from across the world, including in Israel and Palestine, we call on you to end your cooperation with Israel to enforce these laws."
The founder of Facebook, has long held that the company's mission is to make the world more open and connected; his assumption is that such a world is a better place for us all. As it stands at the moment, however, Zuckerberg's brainchild has more than two billion users but appears to be making it easier to spread hatred about, and incite violence against, the Palestinians. That doesn't even take into account the massive user bases of Facebook-owned social media like Instagram and WhatsApp.
A boycott in favour of the Palestinians could make a serious dent in Facebook's worldwide coverage; perhaps the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign should take up the cudgels on their behalf, and turn this possibility into reality. Would one-time golden boy Zuckerberg want to put everything on the line for the sake of a rogue state which treats international laws – and those who follow them – with utter contempt? It's a risky strategy.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.