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Meta accused of ‘systemic censorship’ of pro-Palestine content

December 21, 2023 at 2:39 pm

In this photo illustration, the logos of Facebook are displayed on a screen in Ankara, Turkiye on December 05, 2023 [Didem Mente – Anadolu Agency]

Meta’s oversight board declared on Tuesday that the social media giant, formerly known as Facebook, made an error in removing two videos depicting hostages and casualties during Israel’s military onslaught against Palestinians in Gaza. The decision comes as Meta is accused by Human Rights Watch of “systemic censorship of Palestine content.”

One of the cases involved an Instagram video depicting the aftermath of an air strike near Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, revealing wounded and dead children. Another around which the case is said to have revolved was a Facebook video from the 7 October attack, portraying an Israeli woman pleading with her captors not to harm her as she is taken hostage. The oversight board deemed these videos to be crucial for “informing the world about human suffering on both sides.” However, Meta’s automated moderation systems initially removed the content.

READ: Facebook blocks Palestinian news agency’s page

Upon the oversight board’s review selection, Meta reversed its decision in both instances, restoring the videos with a pre-viewing warning. While the board approved of the content restoration, it expressed disagreement with Meta’s decision to restrict the videos from being recommended to users. In a statement, the board urged Meta to respond more swiftly to changing circumstances on the ground, emphasising the delicate balance between the values of giving people a voice and safety.

While the two cases are related to both sides, Meta’s crackdown on pro-Palestine content is on a different scale as it is subjected to “systemic censorship”, according to a new report released today by Human Rights Watch.

The rights group documents how social media giant Meta has increasingly restricted online speech related to Palestine across platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The analysis found over 1,050 cases where content was taken down, accounts were suspended, shadow banning of accounts took place and other censorship happened, all targeting pro-Palestine voices.

According to HRW’s Acting Associate Technology and Human Rights Director Deborah Brown, these restrictions represent adding “insult to injury at a time of unspeakable atrocities and repression already stifling Palestinians’ expression.” The report argues that amid devastating attacks in Gaza where Israeli has killed over 20,000 civilians, most of them children and women, Meta’s crackdown serves to “further the erasure of Palestinians’ suffering.”

READ: How Israel’s ‘Facebook Law’ plans to control all Palestinian content online

HRW documented what it calls a pattern of undue removal and suppression of protected speech including peaceful expression in support of Palestine and public debate about Palestinian human rights. The report found that the problem stems from flawed Meta policies and their inconsistent and erroneous implementation, overreliance on automated tools to moderate content, and undue government influence over content removals.

Meta should permit protected expression, including about human rights abuses and political movements, on its platforms, said HRW. The company should begin by overhauling its “dangerous organisations and individuals” policy to make it consistent with international human rights standards.