U.S. advocacy groups have partnered with a leading Palestinian digital rights organization to release a list of demands addressing the systematic content removal, shadowbanning, and account suspensions faced by Palestinians and rights advocates on Meta’s platforms.
Fight for the Future, 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, Adalah Justice Project, MPower Change, and US Campaign for Palestinian Rights have launched a joint petition, Meta: Let Palestine Speak, demanding immediate action on the crisis of systematic discrimination and silencing of Palestinians on Meta’s platforms.
Since October 7, 2023, digital rights groups have recorded an alarming spike in reports of content removal, shadowbanning, and account suspensions from Palestinians and Palestine supporters across social media platforms, including on Instagram and Facebook.
Users have also reported a series of shocking examples of discrimination on Meta’s platforms:
- Instagram hid comments containing the Palestinian flag emoji–apparently after labeling the symbol as “potentially offensive.”
- Users reported Instagram inserting the word “terrorist” into English translations of Arabic bios/profiles that contain the words “Palestinian” and “Alhamdulillah” (Arabic for Praise be to God), and the Palestinian flag emoji.
- WhatsApp’s AI image generator has been creating emojis of gun-wielding children when prompted with ‘Palestinian’.
Given that Palestinians are currently experiencing the worst escalation of Israeli violence in decades, the consequences of this censorship are more serious and damaging than ever before. The groups’ petition lays out a series of actions Meta must take to course correct and immediately reduce harm (for the full list visit the petition page):
- Government Request Transparency: Provide complete transparency on requests—both legal and voluntary—submitted by governments worldwide, including the Israeli government and the Israeli Cyber Unit, EU, and Palestinian Authority law enforcement agencies, and others.
- Automation Transparency & Content Moderation: Provide full transparency on where, when, and how automation and machine learning algorithms are being used in the content moderation process and invest in increased human moderation.
- Dangerous Organizations: Provide full transparency on who has been designated under the “Dangerous Organizations and Individuals” policy and include policy carve-outs for the protection of freedom of the press, as well as the documentation of human rights violations.
- Independent Review: Commit to consistently recurring and comprehensive independent human rights due diligence reviews and audits.
- Co-design: Commit to a continuous co-design process with civil society to improve upon policies and processes involving Palestinian content.
- Fully Implement BSR Recommendations: Continue to implement any additional recommendations in BSR’s “Human Rights Due Diligence of Meta’s Impacts in Israel and Palestine” report.
Journalists found that internal Meta “crisis response” decisions were steeped in discrimination, including reducing the threshold of certainty required for ‘hiding’ hostile content from 80% to 25%, for content originating in large parts of the Middle East. At the same time, 7amleh reports that incendiary Hebrew-language content calling for the murder of Palestinians and the erasure of Gaza is allowed to stand and spread.
Meta also continues to maintain secrecy around its relationship with Israel’s Cyber Unit, an agency tasked with reporting and requesting the removal of Palestinian and pro-Palestine content to Big Tech platforms. In past years, Meta removed the flagged content from 85% of the submissions it received from the Cyber Unit. No such agency exists to flag violent Hebrew-language and Israeli content.
The Meta: Let Palestine Speak petition is part of 7amleh’s broader campaign by the same name, launched in October 2022. A year prior, 7amleh’s organizers and international advocates succeeded in pressuring Meta to commission an independent “human rights due diligence report” on the impact of the company’s content moderation policies in Palestine and Israel in 2021. The report included a series of recommendations that 7amleh and other experts endorsed, representing an enormous win for the Palestinian digital rights movements.
Unfortunately, events of the past weeks demonstrate that Meta’s broken policies haven’t been adequately addressed. Through the new petition, activists hope to expose the severe consequences of Meta’s inaction, and apply the pressure needed to bring about harm reduction stop gap measures, as well as longer term policy reforms.
“For years now, Meta has been systematically silencing and censoring Palestinian voices and narratives. Although we thought we had made good progress in pushing Meta to end this attack on Palestinian speech, the recent crisis has made it extremely clear that Meta is not doing nearly enough. Meta needs to take immediate action to protect Palestinian voices and narratives now,” said Nadim Nashif, General Director & Founder at 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media.
“The fact that Palestinians are facing discrimination and silencing from the very platforms they rely on as lifelines to the outside world – on top of all of the other horrors they’re experiencing in this moment – is simply reprehensible,” said Sarah Philips, campaigner at Fight for the Future. “Censorship of the Palestinian flag emoji on Instagram and unjustified content removal on mass levels is emblematic of Meta’s deeply rooted bias and disregard for Palestinian rights – as well as the unchecked influence of Israeli censorship agencies, like the Cyber Unit. Meta currently has a choice: continue to censor Palestinians and exacerbate the violence of Israel’s ongoing genocide campaign, or refuse to be a barrier to Palestinians’ truth-telling and #LetPalestineSpeak.”