Facebook censors pro-Palestine publications and businesses: former employee

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As Facebook grapples with internal allegations of censorship, uneven enforcement and pro-Israel bias, a former Facebook employee exposed the company’s systemic policy of censoring Palestinians and solidarity activists as a result of the Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip which killed hundreds of people and injured thousands more.

Ashraf Zeitoon, who was Facebook’s policy manager for the Middle East and North Africa region from 2014 to mid-2017, told VICE News that Instagram and its parent company Facebook are deliberately and systematically silencing Palestinian voices. Zeitoon also highlighted Palestinian businesses that have had their direct messages (DMs) blocked or their posts deleted on Instagram since the unrest in Gaza and Israel began on May 10.

One such incident happened over a week ago when Palestinian brand designer Aminah Musa decided to help Palestinian children by launching an Instagram campaign to collect food and other very important supplies for the family. the children of Gaza. However, Musa faced one of the biggest challenges an online store could face as direct communication with buyers and subscribers suddenly stalled.

“As we were responding to direct messages… a message popped up and said, ‘This feature is not available due to the protection of our community,” said Musa, who lives in Chicago, adding that people were exchanging messages to learn more about the charitable campaign launched by Paliroots, Musa’s company.

“They were wondering if we were ignoring them,” she said. “We had to constantly create stories on Instagram like, ‘Hey, we can’t post on DM. “People were contacting us to help them connect their friends and family in Gaza with relief kits through MECA (Paliroots partner on the ground). We couldn’t refer them because we couldn’t send a message, which left families in Gaza without guidance. ”

“It made people think the charity project was bogus,” Musa added.

The bloc was imposed on May 15, a symbolic day for Palestinians known as “Nakba” or The Catastrophe, which refers to the destruction of hundreds of villages in historic Palestine and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands. of Palestinians from their land by armed Zionists. gangs to make way for the new State of Israel in 1948.

Left without communication, Musa’s team was helpless. “We don’t know why this happened,” she said. “Prior to that, we haven’t deleted any of our posts.”

Instagram later restored Paliroots’ access to direct messages, the same day the IDF and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire after 11 days of fighting that killed more than 250 Palestinians in Gaza. , including 66 children, and injured nearly 2,000.

“I can confirm that this is not the first time that Facebook has adopted such measures to demote content, which its content policy team considers to be incitement or ultimately unqualified spam – which is not the case in so many of these incidents, ”Zeitoon said. He pointed to digital media site Lovindubai, which saw their Instagram post on luxury fashion chains in Dubai, including Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdale’s and Ounass who appear to be pro-Israel, suddenly removed without warning or explanation.

Other companies have also reported suppression or censorship following the outbreak of unrest in Gaza. The founder of Nominal, a jewelry company in Arizona, told VICE News that sales have been below average since the Palestinian solidarity messages were published.

“People don’t see our posts or our stories, so they don’t get the engagement they typically would,” Akram Abdullah said. “It’s disappointing,” he added. “Instagram is a free platform. People should be able to express their opinions and thoughts without any repercussions… On the contrary, it makes us want to have the conversation more and more.

Former Facebook employees said complaints about a significant reduction in reporting of bombings in Gaza and Jerusalem could be linked to “a deliberate limitation in scope and withholding of hashtags” .

Recently, Facebook admitted to making a mistake in removing content from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the site of the Israel Police Force attacks on Palestinians after Instagram linked the site to terrorism.

“We know there have been several issues that impacted people’s ability to share on our apps, including a technical bug that affected stories around the world and an error that temporarily restricted the posting content on the hashtag page of Al-Aqsa Mosque, ”the company spokesperson said. “Although these have been fixed, they should never have happened in the first place. We are very sorry to anyone who felt that they could not draw attention to important events, or who have felt that this was a deliberate suppression of their voice, it was never our intention – and we never want to silence any particular community or point of view.

“Our policies are designed to give everyone a voice while keeping them secure on our apps, and we enforce these policies equally, regardless of who is posting or their personal beliefs. We have a dedicated team, which includes Arabic and Hebrew speakers, closely monitoring the situation on the ground, focusing on removing harmful content while fixing application errors as quickly as possible.

In an attempt to draw attention to the violence, Instagram users posted videos with the hashtag #AlAqsa or Al-Aqsa in Arabic # الاقصى or # الأقصى, only to find that their posts have been removed or hidden from view. search results. Several notifications revealed that Instagram, owned by Facebook, had removed posts because they were associated with “violent or dangerous organizations.” When employees learned of the reductions and their reasons, some filed internal complaints.

In one case, an employee saw that Instagram had deleted an infographic describing the situation in Al-Aqsa due to its association with, again, “violence or a terrorist organization.” After the employee lodged a complaint, they wrote in an internal message that they had been informed that the image had been deleted “on the basis of a reference to” alaqsa “which is a designated organization,” a Facebook term which refers to “dangerous people and organizations”. The content was eventually reinstated after a complaint was filed.


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