Examining Allegations of Social Media Censorship Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In recent times, there has been growing concern over the actions of major social media platforms when it comes to content related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Users and activists worldwide are questioning whether these platforms are deliberately limiting the reach of posts that are critical of Israel or express support for Palestine, a practice often referred to as “shadow-banning.”

The Silence on Social Media

Belgian filmmaker and activist, Thomas Maddens, recently experienced something unusual on TikTok. He posted a video about Palestine with the word “genocide,” and while he initially received significant engagement, it suddenly plummeted. Maddens expressed his surprise, saying, “I thought I would have got millions of views, but the engagement had stopped.” This is not an isolated incident.

Users across the globe, including authors, activists, journalists, filmmakers, and everyday social media enthusiasts, have voiced their concerns about posts containing hashtags such as “FreePalestine” and “IStandWithPalestine” being hidden or receiving limited visibility.

The Troubling Role of Meta-Owned Instagram

Critics argue that Instagram, which is owned by Meta, has arbitrarily taken down posts merely mentioning Palestine, citing a violation of “community guidelines.” Some have reported their Instagram Stories being hidden for sharing information about pro-Palestine protests. Others expressed concerns about the word “terrorist” appearing in proximity to their Instagram biographies.

Meta spokesperson Andy Stone attributed these incidents to a bug, stating that it was not content-related and was resolved as quickly as possible. However, the explanations haven’t assuaged the concerns of civil rights groups and activists.

Concerns Raised by Civil Rights Groups

This month, 48 organizations, including 7amleh, the Arab Centre for Social Media Advancement, issued a statement urging tech companies to respect the digital rights of Palestinians and pro-Palestine voices. They expressed their worries about “significant and disproportionate censorship of Palestinian voices,” stating that such restrictions represent a grave threat to freedom of expression and access to information.

Jalal Abukhater, 7amleh’s advocacy manager, detailed the documentation of 238 cases of pro-Palestinian censorship, primarily on Facebook and Instagram. According to him, there seems to be a concerted effort to restrict content related to Palestine, while content from the official Israeli narrative is given a more lenient treatment.

Real Experiences of Censorship

Individuals who have experienced such censorship share their stories. For example, a marketing manager from Brussels saw a significant dip in engagement when she began posting about Palestine on her personal Instagram account, despite her posts lacking graphic content or hate speech.

Similar experiences were reported by an Instagram user in India, whose Stories about protests in Los Angeles and California’s Bay Area received zero views, a highly unusual occurrence. These accounts of censorship have led some to refer to it as an “extraordinary threat” to information flow.

Influence on Publications and Journalists

Even media outlets and prominent figures haven’t been immune to this alleged censorship. Ameer Al-Khatahtbeg, the founder and editor-in-chief of “Muslim,” a news website focusing on Muslim issues, saw a significant drop in post visibility on Instagram. Posts that previously reached millions were now seen by only a fraction of that audience. The most concerning aspect of this censorship is that it affects any account mentioning keywords related to Palestine or using hashtags like #FreePalestine.

Other publications, such as Mondoweiss and Quds News Network, have also faced censorship. TikTok temporarily banned Mondoweiss, while Quds News Network had its Facebook page suspended by Meta.

The History of Censorship

This isn’t the first time that social media platforms have been accused of censoring Palestinian voices. An independent report commissioned by Meta in 2021 revealed that the company negatively impacted the human rights of Palestinian users. It highlighted issues such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, political participation, and non-discrimination.

Creative Strategies to Counter Censorship

Users who faced censorship are resorting to creative workarounds. Some individuals deliberately alter keywords like “Palestine,” “ethnic cleansing,” or “apartheid” by adding dots or slashes between letters or replacing letters with symbols to outsmart the algorithms.

One tech-savvy individual even developed a website that automates these alterations, making it easier for users to post without fear of censorship. These strategies aim to ensure that information and narratives continue to flow.

Seeking Transparency and Accountability

Given the far-reaching influence of social media, many argue for the need for transparency and accountability from these platforms. The European Union has taken steps in this direction through the Digital Services Act (DSA), which mandates transparency regarding shadow-banning and content moderation.

However, the effectiveness of such regulations remains a topic of debate. While these steps are essential, many believe that it’s crucial for social media companies to recognize their role in providing a platform for free expression and information, especially during critical moments like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In conclusion, the alleged suppression of pro-Palestine voices on social media raises concerns about the free flow of information and expression, underscoring the vital role these platforms play in shaping narratives and opinions during times of crisis. Recognizing these challenges and addressing them is crucial for ensuring balanced discourse and preserving the rights of individuals and communities involved.

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