Meta has been accused of Israeli bias and Anti-Palestinian sentiment, as it has reportedly shadowbanned a large proportion of Palestinian social media posts amid Israel conflict.
In light of recent events in the West Bank and the subsequent Gaza conflict, these concerns have only continued to intensify.
Palestinian-American filmmaker Khitam Jabr’s Reels, which captured slices of life in Palestine and from a family trip to the West Bank, came under Meta’s scrutiny even though they didn’t touch on the current conflict whatsoever.
This has brought to light the broader issue of how platforms like Instagram potentially “shadowban” content too aggressively and broadly, whether it’s related to Palestine, Israel, or any other contentious issue.
Understanding the Israel-Hamas Conflict and Its Digital Implications
The Gaza conflict saw heightened tensions with Hamas launching a widespread attack on Israel which quickly retaliated with missiles, a full siege of Gaza, and plans to launch a ground assault into the incredibly densely packed region.
Specifically, content endorsing or supporting Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union, is strictly prohibited. Furthermore, hate speech is also banned on Facebook and is illegal in many places. Because this conflict is so heavily intertwined with ethnicity, hate speech is unfortunately common from both sides of the aisle.
X (formerly Twitter) is already facing heat from the EU for its inability to keep terrorist content and hate speech to a minimum.
As the situation in Gaza worsened, accusations emerged suggesting that Instagram is biasing censorship against content discussing Palestine, irrespective of ties to Hamas.
Users expressed that they faced undue harassment and penalties for posting Palestine-centric content. Such instances aren’t isolated, with a significant historical pattern forming that could indicate inherent biases against Palestinian users across Meta platforms.
Meta’s Moderation Challenges In the Face of Mounting Tensions
Meta grapples with the nuances of the Arabic language, encompassing over 25 diverse dialects – a potential lack of diversification in its linguistic resources, combined with black-and-white content policies, often results in inadequate content moderation.
Further complexities arise from partnerships with entities like the Israeli Cyber Unit, leading to speculations about political influence over platform policies.
Indeed, the Israeli Cyber Unit has been active in pursuing Palestinian funding across the digital space, including in cryptocurrencies.
Past studies by Pew Research have also identified strong support for Israel across Facebook, Twitter, and blogs – highlighting the potential for bias.
An illustrative example from 2021 showcased the challenges faced by Meta during the conflict between Hamas and Israel.
A third-party report acknowledged the company’s “adverse human rights impact” on the free expression rights of Palestinian users.
A Closer Look at the Meta Shadowban Controversy
The contention that Meta’s shadowbans disproportionately target Palestinian social media accounts is nothing new.
High-profile figures, including supermodel and activist Bella Hadid, have publicly addressed their suspicions of unfair shadow banning related to pro-Palestine content on Instagram.
The company attributed some content removals during the 2021 conflict to technical glitches and emphasized its commitment to neutral content moderation. It’s also natural that there will be content moderation mistakes on any massive social media platform.
But for many, especially within the Palestinian community, these explanations fall short.
Allegations against Meta extend beyond just Instagram Story visibility. Some creators argue that their engagement metrics plummeted, especially when they critiqued Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks.
Such moderation inconsistencies continue to sow distrust among users – leading to allegations of Anti-Palestinian sentiment and Israeli bias.
The Arab Center for Social Media Advancement has documented instances of Instagram potentially flagging comments featuring the Palestinian flag emoji.
Moreover, reports suggest that Meta’s Community Guidelines may be enforced unevenly, especially concerning content around Palestine.
The Bottom Line: Anti-Palestinian Sentiment and Israeli Bias?
The challenges surrounding content moderation for platforms like Meta are immense, and with political, cultural, and humanitarian dimensions intertwined, achieving an entirely fair moderation policy is absurdly difficult if not impossible.
As global events continue to unfold and social media’s role in shaping perceptions grows, platforms like Meta are under the spotlight, tasked with ensuring unbiased, fair, and comprehensive content moderation practices. If they fail, the EU will likely be the first to make them pay and force them to change their practices.