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Facebook violating human rights of Palestinian users, report finds

Facebook and Meta [Muhammed Selim Korkutata/Anadolu Agency]
Facebook and Meta [Muhammed Selim Korkutata/Anadolu Agency]

Social media giant Meta has unfairly targetted Palestinian social media users during the 11-day onslaught on the Gaza Strip in May 2021, which killed at least 254 Palestinians including 66 children and 39 women.

A report conducted by the independent consultancy Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), today revealed double standards when it came to the company's censorship practices.

Content in the Arabic language about Palestine was hit by post restrictions such as hashtag removals and reshare blocks. Palestinian journalists reported that their WhatsApp accounts had been blocked, which was explained as unintentional and rectified after Meta was notified.

Meanwhile, Hebrew content remained relatively unaffected in comparison.

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"Meta's actions in May 2021 appear to have had an adverse human rights impact on the rights of Palestinian users to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, political participation, and non-discrimination, and therefore on the ability of Palestinians to share information and insights about their experiences as they occurred," the report states.

Meta Inc owns Facebook, the world's largest social media website, as well as the popular apps Instagram and WhatsApp.

"The data reviewed indicated that Arabic content had greater over-enforcement (e.g., erroneously removing Palestinian voice) on a per user basis," the report says. "Data reviewed by BSR also showed that proactive detection rates of potentially violating Arabic content were significantly higher than proactive detection rates of potentially violating Hebrew content."

Moreover, Meta adds that in the lead-up to the outbreak of violence, which include the riots triggered by a series of Israeli provocations including the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan last year, a "global technical glitch" occurred, preventing users from re-sharing posts, including in Israel and Palestine.

The Al-Aqsa hashtag was also blocked by a content reviewer, with Miranda Sissons, global human rights director for Meta, saying that the person who made the error is "human" and that the hashtag block was fixed once they were made aware of the issue.

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In Meta's own report, in response to BSR's findings, she added that this was "not intentional or targeted but a global error that affected tens of millions of people. "We are a US company that has to comply with US law."

Nevertheless, BSR's report concluded that Meta's actions in May 2021 violated the human rights of Palestinian users' freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, political participation, and non-discrimination, and, ultimately, the potential of Palestinians to share information and insights about their experiences as they occurred.

It says: "Legal designations of terrorist organisations around the world have a disproportionate focus on individuals and organisations that have identified as Muslim, and thus Meta's DOI policy and the list are more likely to impact Palestinian and Arabic-speaking users, both based upon Meta's interpretation of legal obligations, and in error."

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