FB double standards: Israeli attacks censored, graphic others allowed
Internal memos reveal that Meta thought attacks on civilians in Ukraine were "newsworthy", while Israeli attacks were censored, which led to accusations of double standards.
After the latest Israeli aggression earlier this month against the heavily populated Gaza Strip, Palestinian users of Facebook and Instagram complained about the sudden removal of posts revealing the ensuing death and destruction.
Palestinian users of the two sizable social media sites, which are both owned by the same parent firm, Meta, had previously complained about their posts being arbitrarily taken down.
It's becoming a pattern: Palestinians share sometimes graphic films and photographs of Israeli strikes, then Meta quickly removes the content, often with no explanation and only a passing mention of a breach of the company's "Community Standards".
However, not all of Meta platforms' billion-plus users encounter these problems when recording the bombing of their communities.
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The firm regularly ordered moderators to stray from standard practice and handle diverse graphic material from the Russia-Ukraine war with a light touch this year, according to previously unreported policy language obtained by The Intercept.
Like other American internet businesses, Meta swiftly implemented a slew of new policy carveouts in response to the military operation, especially allowing Ukrainians to continue posting graphic photographs of the war on Facebook and Instagram.
No such exceptions were ever granted for Palestinian victims of Israeli state brutality, and the sources don't indicate that any other suffering group was given a similar level of latitude.
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“This is deliberate censorship of human rights documentation and the Palestinian narrative,” said Mona Shtaya, an advisor with 7amleh, the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, a civil society group that formally collaborates with Meta on speech issues.
Gaza deemed not "newsworthy"
Between August 5 and August 15, when "Israel" was attacking Gaza, 7amleh counted approximately 90 deletions of information pertaining to bombings. It should be noted that reports of blocked content are still coming in.
"Their censorship works almost like clockwork – whenever violence on the ground escalates, their takedown of Palestinian content soars," said Marwa Fatafta, Middle East North Africa policy manager for Access Now, an international digital rights organization.
Examples of Palestinian content that has been censored that The Intercept has looked at include the removal on August 5 of a post lamenting the passing of Alaa Qadoum, a five-year-old Palestinian girl killed by an Israeli missile strike, as well as an Instagram video of Gazans recovering bodies from the rubble.
Meet Alaa Qadoum, a 5-year-old brutally killed today by the Israeli occupation's shelling of the #Gaza Strip. Meet Alaa, a girl yet to make it out of kindergarten. Meet Alaa, a victim out of thousands of #Palestinian children murdered by the Israeli occupation.#GazaUnderAttack pic.twitter.com/PyDHHgAfgH— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) August 5, 2022
Both posts were deleted along with a notice stating that the imagery "goes against our guidelines on violence or dangerous organizations" — a reference to Meta's corporate policy against posting any content that promotes violence or information about its extensive list of prohibited individuals and organizations.
According to the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, these two posts were taken down, Meta representative Erica Sackin told The Intercept. She was alluding to the organization's filtering of material that supported nationally sanctioned "terrorist groups".
Sackin did not respond to a follow-up question addressing the image of a man and a 5-year-old girl buried in debris's "promotion of terrorism."
Palestinian advocates speak up
Rights advocates told The Intercept that the exemptions made for the Russia-Ukraine war are the most recent instance of a double standard between Meta's treatment of Western markets and the rest of the world. This is proof of Meta's special treatment of the Ukrainian cause since the start of the war, as well as something that can be seen with media coverage of the war more generally.
Meta’s public-facing Community Standards rulebook says, “We remove content that glorifies violence or celebrates the suffering or humiliation of others because it may create an environment that discourages participation” — noting a vague exception for “graphic content (with some limitations) to help people raise awareness about these issues.” The Violent and Graphic Content policy places a blanket ban on gruesome videos of dead bodies and restricts the viewing of similar still images to adults 18 years and older.
The Knesset member sent a strong message criticizing the double standards of the #US and #Western countries who seem to turn a blind eye to the countless crimes committed by the occupation, whether against civilians or journalists. #Palestine #ShireenAbuAkleh pic.twitter.com/YF2Q0QxRtO— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) May 11, 2022
The discrepancy was brought up by critics who questioned why online communication concerning crimes against humanity and war crimes done against Europeans seemed to require special protections but not speech about injustices committed against other people.
“Meta should respect the right for people to speak out, whether in Ukraine or Palestine,” said Shakir, of Human Rights Watch. “By silencing many people arbitrarily and without explanation, Meta is replicating online some of the same power imbalances and rights abuses we see in the real world.”
The Israeli occupation has garnered the support of various A-listers and many renowned celebrities whose support propelled Israeli oppression against #Palestinians and other peoples in the region.#Palestine pic.twitter.com/dWVKEfasZD— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) May 9, 2022
Meta has intervened in posts on the Israeli-Palestinian issue to keep photos live by siding with the occupying Israeli military, even though it appears to be against enabling Palestinian civilians to maintain graphic content online.
In one instance, Meta took steps to ensure that a depiction of an attack against a member of the Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank was kept up: “An Israeli Border Police officer was struck and lightly wounded by a Molotov cocktail during clashes with Palestinians in Hebron (Al-Khalil),” an undated memo distributed to moderators reads. “We are making an exception for this particular content to Mark this video as Disturbing.”