Racist Technology in Action: Meta systemically censors and silences Palestinian content globally

The censorship and silencing of Palestinian voices, and voices of those who support Palestine, is not new. However, since the escalation of Israel’s violence on the Gaza strip since 7 October 2023, the scale of censorship has significantly heightened, particular on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. In December 2023, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 51-page report*, stating that Meta has engaged in systematic and global censorship of content related to Palestine since October 7th.

Between October and November 2023, HRW documented more than 1,050 takedowns and other forms of suppression of content on Instagram and Facebook which were posted by Palestinians and supporters of Palestine, including of human rights abuses. Out of the 1,050 instances reviewed, 1,049 cases involved peaceful content in support of Palestine that were either censored or unduly suppressed. The content comes from more than 60 countries globally, and primarily in English language, which is considered a “high-resource” language (read more here). It is unsurprising that the number of cases would exceed this number, which continues to this day.

The six key patterns of undue censorship, each recurring at least 100 times include:

  1. Removal of posts, stories and comments;
  2. Suspension or permanent disabling of accounts;
  3. Restrictions on engaging with content (eg, liking, commenting, sharing, reposting) for a period of 24 hours to 3 months);
  4. Restrictions on following or tagging other accounts;
  5. Restrictions on using certain features (eg, Instagram/Facebook Live, monetisation, recommendations of accounts to non-followers);
  6. “Shadow banning,” a significant decrease in visibility of an individual’s posts, stories, or account, without any notification (eg, limiting reach and distribution of content, or disabling of searches for accounts)

Furthermore, HRW’s own posts calling for users to provide evidence of online censorship faced some of the issues highlighted above, including prohibiting other users to engage with the post as it was flagged as “spam”.

Meta’s policies and practices in silencing Palestinian voices and their supporters, whether intentionally or otherwise, is not new (read more here). This is not only bias against Palestine content, but activists have also called these practices racist.

Despite Meta’s proposed “commitments” in addressing the suppression of Palestinian content over the years two years ago, the ongoing silencing and censorship of Palestinian content since 7 October 2023 has clearly proven otherwise.

As many Western media outlets have continuously failed to accurately report on the genocide in Palestine, social media platforms have become a necessary evil to document, report, gain insight, and mobilise. Undeterred, activists and users continue to find ‘hacks’ around the content moderation practices.

See: Meta’s Broken Promises at Human Rights Watch, or read the full PDF.

*The report builds on years of research, documentation, and advocacy by Palestinian, regional, and international human rights and digital rights organisations, in particular 7amleh, the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, and Access Now.

Image from the Human Rights Watch report.

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