Legal intern Muhammad Essa Fasih contributed to this post.
In the wake of the October 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing backlash on Palestine, Meta has engaged in unjustified content and account takedowns on its social media platforms. This has suppressed the voices of journalists, human rights defenders, and many others concerned or directly affected by the war.
This is not the first instance of biased moderation of content related to Palestine and the broader MENA region. EFF has documented numerous instances over the past decade in which platforms have seemingly turned their backs on critical voices in the region. In 2021, when Israel was forcibly evicting Palestinian families from their homes in Jerusalem, international digital and human rights groups including EFF partnered in a campaign to hold Meta to account. These demands were backed by prominent signatories, and later echoed by Meta’s Oversight Board.
The campaign—along with other advocacy efforts—led to Meta agreeing to an independent review of its content moderation activities in Israel and Palestine, published in October 2022 by BSR. The BSR audit was a welcome development in response to our original demands; however, we are yet to see its recommendations fully implemented in Meta’s policies and practices.
The rest of our demands went unmet. Therefore, in the context of the current crackdown on pro-Palestinian voices, EFF and 17 other digital and human rights organizations are issuing an updated set of demands to ensure that Meta considers the impact of its policies and content moderation practices on Palestinians, and takes serious action to ensure that its content interventions are fair, balanced, and consistent with the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation.
Why it matters
The campaign is crucial for many reasons ranging from respect for free speech and equality to prevention of violence.
Free public discourse plays an important role in global conflicts in that it has the ability to affect the decision making of those occupying decisive positions. Dissemination of information and public opinion can reflect the majority opinion and can build the necessary pressure on individuals in positions of power to make democratic and humane decisions. Borderless platforms like Meta, therefore, have colossal power to shape narratives across the globe. In order to reflect a true picture of the majority public opinion, it is essential that these platforms allow for a level playing field for all sides of a conflict.
These leviathan platforms have the power and responsibility to refuse to succumb to unjustifiable government demands intended to skew the discourse in favor of the latter’s geopolitical and economic interests. There is already a significant imbalance between the government of Israel and the Palestinian people, particularly in their economic and geopolitical influence. Adding to that, suppression of information coming out of or about the weaker party has the potential to aid and abet further suffering.
Meta’s censorship of content showing the scale of current devastation and suffering in Palestine by loosely using categories like nudity, sexual activity, and graphic content, in a situation where the UN is urging the entire international community to work to "mitigate the risk of genocide", interferes with the right to information and free expression at a time when those rights are more needed than ever. According to some estimates over 90% of pro-Palestinian content has been deleted following Israel’s requests since October 7.
As we’ve said many times before, content moderation is impossible at scale, but clear signs and a record of discrimination against certain groups escapes justification and needs to be addressed immediately.
In the light of all this, it is imperative that interested organizations continue to play their role in holding Meta to account for such glaring discrimination. Meta must cooperate and meet these reasonable demands if it wants to present itself as a platform that respects free speech. It is about time that Mark Zuckerberg started to back his admiration for Frederick Douglass’ quote on free speech with some material practice.