Censorship of Palestinian media
Palestinian journalists, commentators and news agencies, are facing arbitrary censorship of content and suspension of accounts by social media platforms.
Digital rights group Sada Social has been monitoring the suspension of Palestinian content and accounts on Facebook and other social media platforms since 2017. Facebook Inc., which was rebranded last October as Meta Inc., owns both social media platforms Facebook and Instagram.
In 2021, Sada Social documented hundreds of instances of inappropriate censorship of social media content in support of the rights of Palestinians on social media platforms. This censorship was exacerbated significantly during the Israeli offensive on Gaza in May 2021. Sada Social’s documentation reveals that Facebook’s censorship of Palestinian-related content is representative of a much wider problem that is far-reaching and ostensibly systematic in nature.
In May 2021, Bindmans LLP submitted a Communication on behalf of five journalists and news agencies in Palestine, who have experienced Facebook’s interference with their accounts and/or posts, accusing Facebook of breaching their fundamental right to freedom of expression, and Facebook’s own Corporate Human Rights Policy. The main questions posed by Bindmans LLP included whether the censorship decisions were carried out by an algorithm or by a person exercising their discretion; and details regarding Facebook’s policy in justifying their censorship decisions; in addition to steps taken by the company to resolve unfair censorship.
In June 2021, Facebook responded by confirming they had investigated the accounts in question and, after further review, had restored content and/or accounts where applicable. However, no substantial answers were provided to any of the main questions cited in the original Communication. Despite the commitments made by Facebook in their response, the censorship remained.
On 8 December 2021, the Israeli Knesset preliminary approved a bill that would allow Israeli authorities to remove content from Facebook and all other social media outlets, and extends this to any website at all. This far-reaching bill includes vague considerations to possible harm to an ‘individual’s safety’, ‘public safety’, and ‘national security’ – terms that are frequently utilised to serve political interests. An additional dangerous implication of the bill includes the ability to ask internet providers to block access in Israel to content that websites don’t agree to remove.
On 21 February 2022, Bindmans LLP instructed by the ICJP, sent a formal complaint to Facebook on behalf of Sada Social and a number of Palestinian journalists, commentators and news agencies, regarding the arbitrary censorship of content and suspension of accounts experienced on Facebook’s platform.
The complaint, which was also sent to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, requests an urgent review of, and explanation for, the decisions made by Facebook to suspend accounts and posts which are affiliated to Palestinian news agencies, commentators and journalists.
The complaint reinstates the request that Meta/Facebook disclose and reviews its decision-making process, and explains why the accounts were closed, suspended or posts taken down, and whether in doing so an algorithm or human discretion was used.
The ICJP, and the journalists, commentators and news agencies in the above Communications, have instructed Bindmans LLP.
2 March 2022: UK Lawyers File Complaint Against Facebook Over Anti-Palestinian Bias (Online Palestine)
25 February 2022: Palestinian journalists sue Facebook over censorship of Palestine-related content (Palestine News Network)
24 February 2022: UK Lawyers File Complaint against Facebook over Anti-Palestinian Bias (Palestinian Return Centre)
23 February 2022: UK lawyers file complaint against Facebook over anti-Palestinian bias (Al Mayadeen Net)
Leading law firm issues Facebook letter of complaint over ‘anti-Palestinian bias’ (Middle East Monitor)
22 February 2022: UK lawyers file complaint against Facebook over anti-Palestinian bias (Middle East Eye)
9 June 2021: ‘Do something practical’: New Palestinian justice centre launched in UK (Middle East Eye)