Try searching Facebook for this name, Hassan Nasrallah, and result comes back with a warning that says “Are you sure you want to continue? The term you searched for is sometimes associated with activities of Dangerous Individuals and Organisations, which isn’t allowed on Facebook.” The warning does not explain who it has been issued by, for example, linking to evidence to support the claim itself. However it gives you a generalised message about the potentials of such search term being associated with “activities of Dangerous Individuals and Organisations” and you are likely to note the capital letters in both ‘individuals’ and ‘organisations’. Why the capital letters? For more emphasis, I guess.
If you do not know who Mr. Nassrallah is, then here is a short bio: he is the leader of a Lebanese political party called Hezbollah. This party is, legally, operating in the country’s dysfunctional political system. It won 15 seats in the 2021 elections and, along with its allies, has a total of 62 seats in the chamber of 128 total members. One thing: Hezbollah has played a leading role in fighting Israel over its occupation of parts of south Lebanon, forcing it to retreat in 2000, thanks to its strong military wing. Some countries, including the United States have designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation while others, including in Lebanon itself, refer to it as a militia. However Mr. Nassrallah himself is not known to have been, personally, convicted in any terror acts by any court anywhere. However, he and his party are strong supporters of Palestinians while maintaining close ties to Iran.
I am not defending anyone here, but stating the facts for the sake of making my point.
Now enter the search term Itmar Ben-Gvir and everything goes smoothly. No warning message. Ben-Gvir, if you do not know, is an Israeli member of parliament (Knesset). He is the Minister of National Security in the current Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. The self-proclaimed Jewish Supremacist has a long history of hate speech, supporting illegal settlements and spreading anti-Palestinian propaganda and much more. In 2007, as a political activist, Ben-Gvir was convicted of inciting terrorism after he was found to be carrying signs that say “Expel the Arab enemy”. In an August 2022 interview with an Israeli radio station he said he would, if he joins the government, deport “anyone working against Israel from within Israel”. Now that he is, indeed, part of the most fascist Israeli government, such comments should be taken seriously and not dismissed as fantasies.
The Israeli political reality today is a reminder of the fact that ethnic cleansing has always been part of the very idea of Israel. When the state was created, thousands of Palestinian civilians were forced out of their homes—something Ben-Gvir appears to be proud of and might try to emulate!
The Arabs, who Mr. Ben-Gvir wants to expel, are not only the indigenous population of Palestine but also the estimated 21 per cent of the Israeli population along with the estimated 5.5 million Palestinians living under Israeli Occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, which Ben-Gvir considers as Israeli land instead of being Palestinian territory occupied by Israel. After becoming a member of the Knesset, Ben-Gvir, pulled out a gun on residents in the Occupied Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in east Jerusalem. Most recently, in the wake of the Israeli massacre in the Jenin refugee camp, he called for allowing Israeli citizens (Jewish only) to be armed—a dangerous proposition, yet supported by his boss, Benjamin Netanyahu. Upon becoming Minister, his first public act was a provocative visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
He is known to glorify well-known terrorists like Meir Kahane, founder of the terrorist Koch movement—banned in Israel. It is said that a portrait of Baruch Goldstein used to hang in Mr. Ben-Gvir’s living room. Terrorist Goldstein, in a few seconds in 1994, murdered 29 Palestinians and wounded 125 others while they were praying inside Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque. Mr. Ben-Gvir, as a person, is known to be violent, a provocateur, anti-democratic and vulgar.
Clearly the issue underlying the Facebook warning when the search term is Hassan Nasrallah has to do with the larger picture that goes beyond the names Mr. Nasrallah and Mr. Ben-Gvir. The social media giant’s policy terms are not being applied equally across the board to all users, when Palestine and Israel are background issues.
Facebook’s parent company, Meta, commissioned an independent consultancy firm to look into claims that Facebook and Instagram policies have indeed “harmed” Palestinian human rights. The September 2022 report dealt with the brutal Israeli bombardment of Gaza in the previous year and found that Facebook was, indeed, biased. Many Palestinian activists, using Facebook and Instagram to document the violence of the Israeli Occupation Forces, discovered their posts being “spontaneously” disappearing. While the report describes the incidents as “unintentional” bias, it does not deny the fact that some degree of bias still exists, even today. Facebook workers, in 2021, warned that their company is, indeed, biased against Arabs and Muslims, not only against Palestinians.
If this is the work of human or artificial intelligence moderators is irrelevant.
Facebook and other social media platforms have, indeed, enabled more oppressed Palestinians and their supporters to push across their fact-based messages, helping to expose more of Israel’s apartheid practices. However, the anti-Palestinian bias appears to be embedded within the systems themselves, as the example of company workers’ warning has shown. This is not free speech. In the example of Mr. Nasrallah versus Mr. Ben-Gvir as search terms, the bias is clear.
In this era of fake news, biased moderation of content would easily degenerate into fake news that helps hate speech and violence, instead of shutting them off for the benefit of the truth. Nobody is suggesting that Facebook supports Palestine. However, rejecting occupation is a universal value closely linked to free speech—this is exactly the case in Palestine, where Israel is an occupation force, simple and clear. To solve the issue of bias, maybe the social media giants should include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into their moderation polices—a universal document and universally accepted?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.