Facebook employees petition for internal investigation of company’s censorship of Pro-Palestinian content


Hossam el-Hamalawy | Wikimedia Commons

Philip Watson

Facebook employees have called for an investigation into the social media site’s algorithms for censoring many Palestinian voices in the most recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The algorithms that attempt to block harmful or disruptive commentary or reporting have not been effective. In some cases, they removed or targeted marginalized groups that only have social media to build support.

This is the case in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as Palestinians can be jailed for up to ten years by Israeli authorities “for attempting to influence public opinion in a manner that ‘may’ harm public peace or public order,” according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

The employees’ petition has gained steam and obtained 174 signatures as of June 2.

With the social media platform removing posts related to the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in east Jerusalem, Palestinians mobilized a movement to give the Facebook app  1star reviews in app stores, according to NBC.

This notably took Facebook’s overall app rating down. The company internally declared a “severity 1,” which describes a major issue with the website and is only surpassed by a severity 0, used when the site is down.

Facebook also halts the use of the words “Zionist” and “Zionism” in reference to criticism of Israel, according to company policies obtained by The Intercept, and deleted many posts that document violence by the Israeli State toward Palestinians.

Facebook claims these deletions are ““just a big accident,” according to The Intercept.   Facebook content moderators suggest there is “very little wiggle room” in regard to these terms when used to criticize the Israeli state, The Intercept also reported.

The censorship also occurred on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.  A hashtag that referred to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict outside AlAqsa Mosque was restricted, with related posts removed.

Similarly, Twitter  censorsed Palestinian social media postings and suspended accounts like  activist Muna alKurd after she posted a video detailing an account of an Israeli occupancy of a Palestinian home

However, Twitter did not censor the tweet made by the verified Israeli government Twitter account that showed emojis of rockets. Offline, rockets had taken the lives of many civilian Palestinians. But Twitter did suspend the Twitter accounts of the Quds News Network, which is an independent Palestinian news agency..

In 1996, a law notably called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was passed, absolving the “megaphone” that is a website from liability of what their users post.

However, even with these protections, social media juggernauts such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter censor or use algorithms that restrict their users.

“It is becoming clear that just a handful of companies hold the ultimate power over speech in these situations,” Electronic Frontier Foundation free speech activist Jillian C. York, stated.

Facebook executives, led by Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for global affairs, have since met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and apologized in a virtual meeting.

In an email to The Verge, a Facebook spokesperson stated “We know there were some issues that affected people’s ability to share in our apps.”

“While we fixed them, they should never have happened in the first place and we’re sorry to anyone who felt they couldn’t bring attention to important events, or who believed this was a deliberate suppression of their voice. We design our policies to give everyone a voice while keeping them safe on our apps and we apply them equally, regardless of who is posting or what their personal beliefs are,” The Verge reported.