Facebook is Censoring Discussion of Palestinian Rights: HRW
Facebook was censoring Palestinians and supportive voices as the Israeli occupation was shelling Palestine and killing civilians.
Facebook has wrongfully removed and suppressed content by Palestinians and their supporters, including content regarding human rights abuses committed by "Israel" against Palestinians during the Seif Al-Quds battle (the battle of the Sword of Jerusalem), a Human Rights Watch report said.
HRW noted that the tech giant did acknowledge errors and that it made attempts to correct them; however, the NGO labeled those acknowledgments and attempts 'insufficient,' saying they do not address the scale of reported content restrictions, nor do they explain why said restrictions occurred in the first place.
HRW urged Facebook to commission an independent investigation into content moderation regarding "Israel" and Palestine, "particularly in relation to any bias or discrimination in its policies, enforcement, or systems," calling it on to publish the findings.
“Facebook has suppressed content posted by Palestinians and their supporters speaking out about human rights issues in Israel and Palestine,” said Deborah Brown, senior digital rights researcher, and advocate at Human Rights Watch.
"Facebook censorship threatens to restrict a critical platform for learning and engaging on [human rights issues]," the advocate added.
The restrictions Facebook imposed came during the battle of Seif Al-Quds and Israeli plans to occupy and demolish Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in occupied Jerusalem, and several other Israeli violations. That period saw an escalated Israeli violence against Palestinians. Much of the events were documented and reported on social media, for that is the only place Palestinians could turn to after international media turned its back on the oppressed in favor of the oppressor.
The documentation included efforts to evict Palestinians out of their homes, brutal suppression of Palestinian demonstrations, assaults on places of worship, including Al-Aqsa mosque, indiscriminate rocket attacks that took the lives of dozens of Palestinian children, and airstrikes that killed civilians under the pretext of "combatting Palestinian factions."
Human Rights Watch documented several removals of posts by Facebook's Instagram.
Those posts included:
1. A screenshot of New York Times photos and opinion articles, which a user posted with a caption urging Palestinians to never concede.
2. A photo of a building captioned: "This is a photo of my family’s building before it was struck by Israeli missiles on Saturday, May 15, 2021. We have three apartments in this building."
3. A political cartoon asserting that Palestinians are oppressed, not fighting a religious war with the occupation.
Instagram removed all the aforementioned posts for "containing hate speech or symbols."
There were reports regarding hundreds of deleted posts, suspended or restricted accounts, disabled groups, and so on, underlining Facebook's censorship of the systemic violence against Palestine.
This reflects Facebook's compliance with the Israeli government, as the tech giant has been seen removing content not only based on its own policies but at the command of governments - and the Israeli government has been heavily aggressive in seeking to remove social media content.
"Israel" has a cybersecurity unit, the Israeli Cyber Unit, and that unit has been notorious for making appeals directly to social media platforms based on their own terms of service rather than going through the legal process of filing a court order based on Israeli criminal law.
Facebook has never disputed this claim. However, it told HRW in a letter it has "one single global process for handling government requests for content removal."