Human Rights Watch finds ‘systemic censorship’ of Palestinian content on Meta platforms

Human Rights Watch finds ‘systemic censorship’ of Palestinian content on Meta platforms

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A new report from Human Rights Watch found that Meta’s policies have been “silencing voices” in support of Palestinians on Instagram and Facebook in a “wave of heightened censorship” amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The human rights-focused advocacy group documented more than 1,050 takedowns and suppression of content posted by Palestinians and supporters on Meta platforms between October and November, including 1,049 posts involving peaceful content in support of Palestinians and one in support of Israel. 

“Human Rights Watch found that the censorship of content related to Palestine on Instagram and Facebook is systemic and global,” the report reads. “Meta’s inconsistent enforcement of its own policies led to the erroneous removal of content about Palestine.” 

“While this appears to be the biggest wave of suppression of content about Palestine to date, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has a well-documented record of over-broad crackdowns on content related to Palestine,” it added.

Following an earlier outbreak of violence in May 2021, Meta faced similar accusations of unfair treatment of Palestinians on its platforms, prompting the tech giant to commission an independent due diligence report.

The 2021 report found that Meta’s actions during the period of unrest “appear to have had an adverse human rights impact on the rights of Palestinian users to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, political participation, and non-discrimination.”

While Meta made adjustments to its content moderation policies in response to the due diligence report, it has faced renewed criticism from Palestinian advocacy groups for its latest actions in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Following an expedited review, Meta’s Oversight Board said Tuesday that it mistakenly took down valuable content after temporarily lowering thresholds for automated tools to detect and remove potentially violating content in the wake of the attack.

“Meta’s censorship of content in support of Palestine adds insult to injury at a time of unspeakable atrocities and repression already stifling Palestinians’ expression,” Deborah Brown, the acting associate technology and human rights director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. 

“Social media is an essential platform for people to bear witness and speak out against abuses while Meta’s censorship is furthering the erasure of Palestinians’ suffering,” she added.

However, Meta suggested that the report “ignores the realities of enforcing our policies globally during a fast-moving, highly polarized and intense conflict.”

“Our policies are designed to give everyone a voice while at the same time keeping our platforms safe,” the company said in a statement. “We readily acknowledge we make errors that can be frustrating for people, but the implication that we deliberately and systemically suppress a particular voice is false.” 

Updated at 6:55pm.

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