Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Facebook outside
GAZA CITY, GAZA: Palestinian journalists hold placards during a protest against social media platform Facebook after nearly 300 Palestinian accounts had been blocked, in front of the United Nations building in Gaza City, Gaza on March 5, 2018. [Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

Facebook is showing its double standards over freedom of speech

Hate speech is a bad idea. A good idea would be for platforms to show consistency in their content moderation, particularly when it comes to Palestine

 

This week, Meta, the mother company of Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp, announced that it had “temporarily made allowances for the forms of political expressions that would normally violate our rules like violent speech as ‘death to Russian invaders’. We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”

According to this new policy, then, calling for the death of Russians is considered a “form of political speech” but its platform, Instagram, reportedly erases posts, images and links that document Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians even when these posts are not opinions, but rather news items from credible news sources, as Human Rights Watch reported in October 2021.

According to that report, hundreds of accounts were also suspended based on peaceful solidarity, not calls for violence, incitement or hate towards Israelis. Much of the Palestinian content was censored or - in the company’s terminology - “moderated”, despite the fact that the majority included no direct calls for violence or hate speech. 

The mainstream global English-speaking media have consistently stifled debate about the Palestinians’ cause, their human rights or actions. Longstanding strategies of focusing on reporting violence, prioritising Israeli sources over Palestinian ones, maintaining affinity with Israel official narratives when it comes to describing the events and framing Palestinian resistance as “terrorism”, has led to mainstreaming bias against them. 

Ironically, even the Israeli liberal press occasionally shows more fairness towards the Palestinians than the American press does. 

The Palestinian Uprising of May 2021 was a case in point. Palestinians in the occupied territories took to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok to tell their stories which are normally suppressed by the mainstream media. They used these social media platforms to share and document Israeli police brutality, violations of Palestinians’ rights, forced evictions and denials of access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and to call for solidarity with their non-violent resistance. 

The response of the social networks was to apply strict censorship to Palestinian and pro-Palestinian content. 

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter either deleted or demoted pro-Palestinian posts and suspended activists, journalists and news media accounts, largely affecting the already stifled global narrative, effectively aiding Israeli suppression of the Palestinian story and silencing any criticism of Israel’s brutal occupation and its colonial policies. 

In relaxing its rules to allow Ukrainians to protest against Russian oppression, Facebook shows it knows exactly how wrong this treatment of the Palestinians is

 

For the first few days of the uprising in May 2021, Tik Tok was the only platform that granted the Palestinians the freedom of speech and publishing. Palestinian and pro-Palestinian speech was labelled as “hate speech”, denying Palestinians under Israeli occupation and around the world their freedom of expression, where it should be granted as their right under international law and treaties. 

Many international organisations documented and reported these human rights abuses of the Palestinians by these networks including PAX, Article 19, AccessNow, the Palestinian Digital Rights Organization and 7amleh. 

META claims it is completely transparent in its guidelines but little explanation is provided as to how a post or an account might have violated its community guidelines or what its guidelines are for moderating Palestinian content. 

So how does META develop content moderation policy and who has the freedom to speak on its platforms? These are important questions that Facebook and its Oversight Board, which claims to work towards “ensuring respect for free expression through independent judgement” must answer now. 

How are appointments to the Facebook Oversight Board scrutinised? Emi Palmor, previously the General Director of the Israeli Ministry of Justice (2014-2019), is a member of this Oversight Board. Her appointment came despite calls from international rights groups and organisations to block it. The Association for Progressive Communications said: “Under Palmor’s direction, the Israeli Ministry of Justice petitioned Facebook to censor legitimate speech of human rights defenders and journalists because it was deemed politically undesirable.” 

Similarly, Jordana Cutler, Facebook’s director of policy for Israel is a former advisor to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both of these appointments indicate a tendency for Facebook to consult with right-wing proponents of Israel, with internationally acclaimed rights groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace are seemingly ignored.

Israel has historically over-securitised freedom of expression and arrested Palestinian activists for Facebook and Twitter posts, marking them as “terrorists” for their political views. In relaxing their rules to allow Ukrainians to do exactly the same when it comes to Russian oppression, Facebook et al show they know exactly how wrong this treatment is.

Abeer Al-Najjar is Associate Professor in the Department of Mass Communications of the American University of Sharjah

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera Journalism Review’s editorial stance

 

 

 

 

More Articles

When covering Afghanistan, what matters is the people

One year after the Taliban seized control of the country, the media must focus its attentions on the mounting humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan; the people are the broken heart of this story

Soraya Salam
Soraya Salam Published on: 16 Aug, 2022
‘We have to walk miles to cover the news’ - journalism in Sri Lanka

The ongoing economic crisis in Sri Lanka has been widely covered by international media. But what is life like for journalists in the country right now?

Abeer Khan Published on: 7 Aug, 2022
A short history of ‘click-bait’ journalism

From the ‘Great Moon Hoax’ of 1835, ‘Yellow Journalism’ has been around longer than you might imagine. But can it survive forever?

Rokeya
Rokeya Lita Published on: 26 Jul, 2022
Nigeria - a model for a free African media?

Journalism under military governments in Africa is under threat, but journalists can learn from Nigerian media’s experience of standing up to people in power

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 18 Jul, 2022
Journalism needs clear standards when it comes to ‘deplatforming’ 

Currently, 'deplatforming' of people with views considered hateful is applied in a haphazard way. This just adds to the problem of hate speech

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 6 Jul, 2022
‘Fake news’ laws are killing journalists

Countries which have introduced ‘digital security’ laws in the name of combating fake news are also seeing a rise in harassment and even murders of journalists

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 27 Jun, 2022
Journalists are murdered when governments fail to ensure a free press

Over the past four years, everyone I've known who has tried to investigate the operations of mercenaries in Africa has either been killed or injured in attacks

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 12 Jun, 2022
On the ‘treachery’ of translators

The nature of a journalist-translator’s job forces one to become a messenger mediating between nations and cultures. Our writer reflects on the responsibilities this brings

headshot
Bahauddeen Alsyouf Published on: 5 Jun, 2022
If it’s clear who is funding them, community radio stations can transform lives 

Community radio has begun to flourish in Zimbabwe in recent years. But for stations to truly support the communities they serve, it is imperative that they are transparent about who owns them

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 29 May, 2022
International media has abandoned Afghanistan

The international community will be vital in helping Afghanistan to survive Taliban rule - but it has to start with a change of approach by Western media

Sayed Jalal
Sayed Jalal Shajjan Published on: 22 May, 2022
Let’s help refugees escape from the media’s ‘Ghetto of Compassion’

We must not lump all migrants and asylum seekers together when we report about refugees - ignoring nuance doesn’t solve problems

Alejandro
Alejandro Luque Published on: 15 May, 2022
The occupation of Palestine is not a conflict of equal sides - media needs to start telling the truth

Western media's response to the killing of veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli forces in Palestine is shameful. Until the media starts reporting the truth about Israeli brutality in Palestine, the killing of journalists doing their jobs will continue

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 11 May, 2022
The US is on its way to criminalising journalism

Billed as a ‘super fact checker’, Joe Biden’s new ‘Disinformation Governance Board’ is the first step on this path

Martin Jay
Martin Jay Published on: 9 May, 2022
Beware of activist journalists - they won’t always tell the ugly truth

It is the job of journalists to report the full truth - even when that might cast the ‘good’ guys in a ‘bad’ light

Ilya
Ilya U Topper Published on: 25 Apr, 2022
Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act is criminalising journalism

Bangladesh has been quietly strengthening its laws curtailing freedom of expression - with dangerous results

Rokeya
Rokeya Lita Published on: 18 Apr, 2022
Moscow’s journalistic lights are dimmed, but their story needs to be told

Russia is waging a war on independent journalists who dare to question or contradict the official government line - we must do more to support them

Aidan
Aidan White Published on: 7 Apr, 2022
Why healthy democracies need news junkies

Studies show that news junkies are more likely to register to vote and be politically engaged, but they are not better at predicting future events

Justin
Justin D Martin, Krishna Sharma Published on: 3 Apr, 2022
We need more raw coverage of conflict zones to make people care about all refugees

Coverage of Ukrainian refugees has been more sympathetic because it is usually accompanied by images of the crisis they are fleeing

Tomasz
Tomasz Lesniara Published on: 27 Mar, 2022
When women are being smeared - listen to what they are saying

Cassandra was cursed to always see the future, but to never be believed. For female journalists like Carole Cadwalladr, long dismissed as a 'mad cat lady', it’s a familiar tale

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 16 Mar, 2022
Zimbabwe’s Fourth Estate is under siege

With few job opportunities, harassment by the authorities and a global pandemic, the picture for balanced and truthful journalism is not a pretty one

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 13 Mar, 2022
The irony of fake news - sometimes it serves to highlight injustice

Last week, the image of a blonde-haired Palestinian girl standing up to an Israeli soldier was wrongly credited as an image of a Ukrainian girl confronting a Russian soldier. The intention was to garner sympathy for Ukraine - instead, it had a rather different outcome

Muhammad Khamaiseh Published on: 6 Mar, 2022
‘You must know how to haggle!’ - racism in journalism starts in the classroom 

Even though I didn’t choose to, I quickly became that one ‘annoying’ journalist of colour who had to keep mentioning racism in my journalism school. It was humiliating and exhausting, to the point of nearly quitting

Azraa
Azraa Muthy Published on: 24 Feb, 2022
Human rights lessons from a ‘terrorist’ journalist

It has ever been the case that when a journalist reports crimes by a despot, militant group or even, these days, a so-called democratic state, he is liable to be labelled a criminal.

Clive Stafford Smith
Clive Stafford Smith Published on: 30 Jan, 2022
How should we talk about Pakistan?

How do journalists report accurately about a country which suffers sectarian violence without reinforcing Islamophobic tropes?

Haroon Khalid
Haroon Khalid Published on: 24 Jan, 2022