Creating new perspectives since 2009

Meta considers flagging ‘Zionist’ as hate speech

February 13, 2024 at 8:57 am

Meta logo [Ahmet Serdar Eser/Anadolu Agency]

Meta is reportedly considering the expansion of its hate speech policy to the term “Zionist”, in a move that would further the social media giant’s censorship of pro-Palestinian expression and speech.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Meta reached out to and met with over ten Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestinian organisations last Friday to discuss its plans to review its hate speech policy in order to ensure that the word “Zionist” is not being used online to refer to Jews or Israelis.

In an email – seen by the paper – which a Meta representative sent to those organisations inviting them to the meeting on Friday, it recounted that the current policy allows “Zionist” to be used in “political discourse but removed when it’s used explicitly as a proxy for Jews or Israelis in a dehumanizing or violent way”.

The company is now considering reviewing the policy and its expansion, reportedly following posts that users and “stakeholders” recently reported.

In an email to another organisation, the Meta representative reiterated that the company’s current policies do not allow users to attack others based on their protected characteristics such as nationality or religion, and insisted that the policy “requires a current understanding of how people use language to reference those characteristics”.

The added: “While the term ‘Zionist’ often refers to a person’s ideology, which is not a protected characteristic, it can also be used to refer to Jewish or Israeli people…Given the increase in polarized public discourse due to current events in the Middle East, we believe it’s important to assess our guidance for reviewing posts that use the term ‘Zionist.’”

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

The planned development comes as Meta and its platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have long been criticised for unfairly censoring content related to Palestine, especially pro-Palestinian posts and figures.

Prior to the meeting, a letter sent by 73 organisations to Meta expressed their concerns that the expansion of the policy only furthered that bias, saying it would “too easily mischaracterize conversations about Zionists – and by extension, Zionism – as inherently anti-Semitic… treating ‘zionist’ as a proxy will also encourage the incorrect and harmful conflation of criticism of the acts of the state of Israel with antisemitism.”

It insisted that the “move will prohibit Palestinians from sharing their daily experiences and histories with the world, be it a photo of the keys to their grandparent’s house lost when attacked by Zionist militias in 1948, or documentation and evidence of genocidal acts in Gaza over the past few months, authorized by the Israeli Cabinet, which includes members of the Religious Zionist Party”. The letter also reasoned that “it would prevent Jewish users from discussing their relationships to Zionist political ideology.”

Some from the organisations questioned why the policy was even under review if it already serves the purpose of differentiating Zionism from Judaism or Israelis as a whole. “If you already have a policy that’s addressing Zionism as a proxy, then why are we having this conversation? Why is there further consideration to expand this policy?” asked Linda Sarsour, the executive director of Muslim advocacy organisation MPower Change.

Others also raised concerns surrounding the rising use of artificial intelligence (AI) in censoring pro-Palestinian speech, with Abed Ayoub, the national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, stating that the “AI-powered systems to initially flag posts are problematic – there is no human review until it’s too late.”