3 min read

Meta is suppressing Palestinian speech during a deadly siege

Meta controls so much of our communications infrastructure. Now, human rights groups are watching the company target Palestinian posts with blocks and bans.

The following is a post by campaigner Sarah Philips about an anti-censorship action we’ve just launched today.

At Fight for the Future, we’re looking for ways to balance our ongoing campaigns with the need to support Palestinian-led groups and activists. This post, and the associated action targeting Meta, is one way we think we can help. It’s important: in many places, Instagram, Whatsapp, or Facebook are the most-used communications tools. Please take a look and take action. -Anna

Palestinians in Gaza are living through one of the most aggressive military assaults in modern history. Legal experts are characterizing Israel’s actions as intended and unfolding genocide—funded by US tax dollars and with the support of US tech companies.

As Israel continues to lay siege to Gaza, we’re also witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe. Those who aren’t dying from the bombardment are dying from starvation, disease, and lack of clean drinking water. UNICEF’s James Elder conveys some of it: “Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children. It’s a living hell for everyone else.”

“Dire” doesn’t begin to describe the situation. Electricity and telecom networks are being cut, isolating and alienating hundreds of thousands. When Gazans are able to charge up their phones and get online, they face another barrier: censorship and suppression from the platforms they rely on to reach the outside world.

A few examples of account suspension, deletion, and bio mistranslation on Instagram
A few examples of account suspension, deletion, and bio mistranslation on Instagram

Scores of users have found that when they post videos or images of the destruction around them, their content is immediately removed for “violating platform policies.” Others are locked out of their accounts entirely with little justification or recourse. Others report experiencing shadowbanning, a “covert form of platform moderation that limits who sees a piece of content, rather than banning it altogether.”

A huge amount of that suppression and algorithmic bias is happening on Meta’s platforms. In addition to the removal and blocking of content and accounts, Instagram was labeling the Palestinian flag emoji as “potentially offensive,” resulting in comments containing the flag emoji (🇵🇸) being hidden.

This is nothing new for Palestine rights advocates, who have put pressure on Meta to reform its Palestine/Israel-related content policies for years. In 2021, this pressure found some success: Meta was forced to commission an independent report examining the human rights implications of its Hebrew and Arabic language content moderation and broader Palestine content moderation practices. In September 2023, Meta put out its first progress report in response to the commission’s recommendations.

Unfortunately, while there have been some small positive changes, the overall picture remains the same: systematic censorship and silencing of Palestinians. Given that we’re currently witnessing the worst escalation of Israeli violence in decades, the stakes could not be higher.

Amidst the ongoing crisis, we need to demand that Meta #LetPalestineSpeak. Our revamped petition, developed with Palestine digital rights group 7amleh, lays out straightforward harm reduction measures Meta must act on immediately.

Only through consistent, ongoing pressure will Meta take these necessary steps within a reasonable timeline, and gathering petition signatures is one of the most important pieces of that process.

7amleh and other digital/human rights organizations have been documenting Meta’s abuses since the start of the war. At the same time, they’ve personally experienced the ways that companies like Meta take demands from US-based groups more seriously than groups in the Middle East and North African region. That makes our support as Fight for the Future staff and members all the more important. You can sign the petition to Meta here.

To learn more, visit 7amleh’s Meta, Let Palestine Speak page. For an audio resource, check out this week’s Tech Won’t Save Us.