Occupied Palestine (Palestine Online)- Trends that we’ve seen where Israelis are finally gaining control over the spread of COVID-19 while Palestinians are scrambling to tame a widening outbreak have continued into this week. With Israel increasing access to a third vaccination shot, the number of severe coronavirus cases are quickly dropping and should halve by November. Yet Palestinians still have limited access to both vaccines and testing.
While we usually review indicators and data in this newsletter, this week we wanted to shift gears to discussing how these dramatic differences between Israelis and Palestinians are playing out over social media. More specifically, how social media platforms are pulling seemingly innocuous observations that Palestinians are incurring a great deal of harm from Israeli actions under the specter of “hate speech” violations.
If you noticed posts about Palestinians being removed from Instagram last May during the escalation between Israel and Hamas, you weren’t wrong. Now Instagram’s parent company Facebook, has one week left to respond to its oversight board’s request that the company order an independent investigation on potential bias or discrimination after it removed content on Israel and Palestine, according to a statement on digital censorship out today by Human Rights Watch.
“The company’s acknowledgment of errors and attempts to correct some of them are insufficient and do not address the scale and scope of reported content restrictions, or adequately explain why they occurred in the first place,” Human Rights Watch said this morning.
So what exactly was taken down? Human Rights Watch found an array of content was removed: shared images of New York Times articles and headlines were scrubbed as “hate speech or symbols,” as well as personal insights.
One person who posted, “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,” saw the content was removed for violating hate speech regulations.
The big picture: In both of the above instances, after complaints, the content reappeared on Instagram, but the removal in the first place has led to scrutiny over exactly what are the platform’s limits on speech.
While we don’t know a ton about how Facebook formulates its policies, we do know that it does receive requests from governments to pull critical content. Human Rights Watch found, “The Israeli government has been aggressive in seeking to remove content from social media. The Israeli Cyber Unit, based within the State Attorney’s Office, flags and submits requests to social media companies to ‘voluntarily’ remove content.”
“Instead of going through the legal process of filing a court order based on Israeli criminal law to take down online content, the Cyber Unit makes appeals directly to platforms based on their own terms of service,” Human Rights Watch said.