Facebook’s violations of freedom of opinion and expression in Palestine
In May 2021, activists accused social media platforms of deliberately, blackouting the media, and blocking their voices in support of the Palestinian cause, after most of the pioneers of social networks received warnings to ban and block their publications that included the Hashtag “Save Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.” The Facebook administration has threatened the possibility of completely deleting the accounts if the posts, which the company’s management describes as violating the Community Guidelines of the Facebook and Instagram community, are repeated.
It was not logical, when Facebook deleted some Palestinian journalists’ publications that monitored violations by an occupying army against a defenseless people, despite the fact that those publications didn’t incite hatred or included any insult, racism, or any image of the banned publications in the Facebook guideline. Facebook often removes content at the request of governments, and also based on its own policies. The Israeli government has been aggressive in its request to remove content from social media.
Instead of respecting people’s right to speak publicly, Facebook silences many people arbitrarily and inexplicably, repeating through the internet the logic of power and violations of the same rights. During the period between May 6- 19, 2021, the Instagram platform removed and restricted at least 250 posts related to Palestine and the “#Save Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood” campaign, while Facebook removed at least 179 posts. These reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg, with reports indicating that thousands of publications have been removed.
Media organizations complained at Facebook Administration
These violations prompted the Arabic Network for Digital Media and Human Rights, and a number of French news agencies, to submit an official complaint to the Facebook administration because of the arbitrary censorship it imposes on the content uploaded to its platform by Palestinian journalists and commentators. They called on Facebook to review its policies in the Middle East and remain neutral with regard to the Palestinian issue. The statement monitored several measures taken by Facebook against bloggers on the issue of Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood residents’ displacement, in contravention of the freedom of opinion and expression that social networking sites are supposed to guarantee. A number of Palestinian, Arab journalists, and citizens were surprised by the removal of content related to the case, and the suspension of their accounts.
According to the statement, Facebook – owned Instagram has also deleted all photos and videos of the Al – Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, Al – Shahid, etc., which are seen as inciting words. The statement called on Facebook to stop these practices and to scrutinize the abusive or incited content instead of following the Israeli reports aiming at preventing the Palestinian voice from expressing itself.
Human Rights Watch also said that Facebook improperly removed and suppressed content posted by Palestinians and their supporters, including talk about human rights violations in Israel and Palestine during the hostilities in May 2021. The company acknowledged its mistake and confirmed that it had already apologized on “the impact of these actions on Israel and Palestinian communities and on those who speak about Palestinian affairs globally.
However, Human Rights Watch said that the company’s acknowledgment of errors and attempts to correct some of them is insufficient and does not address the size and scope of the restrictions on the reported content, nor does it adequately explain why they occurred.
As a result of the eligibility of this file, a group of human rights and media groups filed a complaint with the United Nations against the social networking site “Facebook”, because of its bias against Palestinian content. The complaint, which was also submitted to the United Nations Special Reporter on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, demanded an urgent review and explanation of the decisions taken by Facebook to suspend accounts and blogs belonging to Palestinian news agencies and commentators.
Facebook’s Board of Supervisors has recommended an independent investigation into accusations of bias against review committees that oversee posts on Palestine and Israel, the BBC reported. This comes after the council said that “Facebook” failed to provide adequate answers to its questions regarding blocking the publications of some Palestinian activists.
Facebook has to adopt the recommendations of the Facebook’s Supervisory Board issued on September 14, 2021, to conduct an independent investigation into the modification of content regarding Israel and Palestine, particularly any bias or discrimination in its policies and enforcement of policies and regulations, and to publish the findings of the investigations.
As the Oversight Board concluded in its review, the unwarranted removal of content by Facebook” restricts freedom of expression on a topic of public interest. This case is an example of Facebook’s systematic emphasis in applying this standard, especially towards Arab and Muslim communities, often at the expense of users’ freedom of expression, as well as their freedom to seek information.