[News] How Facebook helps Israel hide its crimes

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 21 02:05:17 EDT 2021

Facebook helps Israel hide its crimes

Tamara Nassar <https://electronicintifada.net/people/tamara-nassar> - 20
October 2021
[image: A man holds the Facebook logo upside down in front of the UNSCO

Human Rights Watch called for probe into Facebook censorship of
APA images

As Israel intensified its killing campaign
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/may-2021-attack-gaza> in the Gaza
Strip in May, people across the globe took to the streets
in solidarity with Palestinians.

Others used social media to document, condemn and raise awareness of
Israel’s crimes.

But Facebook and Instagram users soon noticed
their posts being taken down, their accounts suspended and their content
receiving reduced visibility.

A new report
by Human Rights Watch confirms that the two social media platforms, both
owned by Facebook, did indeed suppress and remove content, in many cases
erroneously or unjustifiably.

But Facebook’s acknowledgment to HRW of errors and unjustified removals was
at best insufficient. It failed to “address the scale and scope of reported
content restrictions, or adequately explain why they occurred in the first
place,” the watchdog said.

Last week, Facebook announced
it was hiring an outside consultancy to investigate accusations that it was
censoring content favorable to Palestinians. There is plenty of evidence of
suppression for the investigators to look into.

In the period 6-19 May – which includes the Israeli attack on Gaza –
Palestinian digital rights group 7amleh (pronounced “hamleh”) documented
500 instances of Palestinians’ speech rights being violated online.

They include removing content, account closures, blocked hashtags and
altering reachability of specific content.

The vast majority of these violations – around 85 percent – occurred on
Facebook and Instagram, including the deletion of stories.

Almost half of takedowns were done without prior warning or notice and
another 20 percent did not specify the reason for the removal.

In one instance, Instagram restricted
use of the hashtag #alAqsa in English and Arabic – which refers to the
al-Aqsa mosque in occupied Jerusalem. After 7amleh challenged the company,
the hashtag was reinstated.

7amleh also observed an increase in “geo-blocking” on Facebook – technology
that restricts access based on a user’s location.

Some posts that Instagram purged were simply reposts of content from major
media organizations that could not remotely be construed as inciting
violence or hatred.

But Instagram labeled them as such, suggesting that the platform “is
restricting freedom of expression on matters of public interest,” according
to Human Rights Watch.

Even when social media companies recognized errors and restored content,
the damage was already done.

“The error impedes the flow of information concerning human rights at
critical moments,” Human Rights Watch said.

The group called for an external probe into Facebook’s suppression
Facebook’s list of danger

In one instance <https://www.oversightboard.com/decision/FB-P93JPX02>,
Facebook removed a post by a user in Egypt with more than 15,000 followers.
The user had shared an Al Jazeera news item about the Qassam Brigades, the
armed wing of Hamas.

Initially, Facebook deleted the post under its “Dangerous Individuals and
Organizations Community Standard,” which prohibits specific organizations
and individuals from having a presence on the platform.

Facebook later restored the post after the case was reviewed by its
oversight board.

The board concluded the post contained no “praise, support or
representation” of the Qassam Brigades.

The oversight board also criticized the vagueness of the policy – and
demanded that Facebook explicitly define what constitutes “praise, support
or representation.”

The oversight board is sometimes critical of company policy and claims to
be independent.

But alarms were raised last year when Facebook appointed former Israeli
official Emi Palmor
as a member. Palmor spent years at Israel’s justice ministry enforcing
censorship of Palestinians’ speech.

Human Rights Watch urged Facebook to publish its “dangerous individuals and
organizations” list, a recommendation
previously made by the oversight board.

But Facebook has consistently refused to do so, claiming it would harm its

Last week, *The Intercept* published
a leaked version of the list

It names “over 4,000 people and groups, including politicians, writers,
charities, hospitals, hundreds of music acts and long-dead historical
figures,” *The Intercept* reported.

The list of those Facebook deems “dangerous” largely coincides with those
the United States and Israel regard as enemies.

But it goes much further than that.

“It includes the deceased 14-year-old Kashmiri child soldier Mudassir
Rashid Parray, over 200 musical acts, television stations, a video game
studio, airlines, the medical university working on Iran’s homegrown
COVID-19 vaccine and many long-deceased historical figures like Joseph
Goebbels and Benito Mussolini,” *The Intercept* said.

As well as Hamas and its military wing, the list includes the Popular Front
for the Liberation of Palestine – a Marxist-Leninist political party
founded in 1967. Israel considers virtually all Palestinian political
parties to be “terrorist” organizations – a pretext to routinely arrest
Palestinians for political activity.

While the list contains at least three Zionist groups – the Jewish Defense
League, Kahane Chai and Lehava – these are so extreme that Kahane Chai is
even banned by the Israeli government.

Kahane Chai, or Kach, is an Israeli party founded by Meir Kahane, an
extremist settler who advocated for the total expulsion of Palestinians
from their homeland. Kahane Chai is designated by the US State Department
as a foreign terrorist organization.

Lehava <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/lehava> is a racist group that
works to prevent mixed marriages between Jews and Palestinians. Its members
have repeatedly
been filmed
rampaging through occupied East Jerusalem chanting “Death to the Arabs.”

But many Israeli politicians, parties and religious leaders who regularly
incite hatred and violence – such as interior minister Ayelet Shaked
who promoted
on Facebook
a call for genocide of the Palestinians – are absent.

So is Israel’s army.

Even though the Israeli military regularly commits massacres
of entire
Palestinian families
crimes against children
extrajudicial executions
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/extrajudicial-executions> and forced
expulsions <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/forced-displacement>, it is
not deemed “dangerous” enough to make it to Facebook’s list.

And Israel still regularly uses Facebook to threaten more violence.

For instance, the Israeli military habitually
posts direct threats of collective punishment against the two million
Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

In May, Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz used Facebook
<https://www.facebook.com/COGAT.ARABIC/videos/469978750921002/> to threaten
more destruction
than he ordered in Gaza in 2014.

Back then as Israel’s army chief, he commanded a 51-day assault
that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children.

“Gaza will burn,” Gantz said in a video posted on Facebook in May, a direct
threat that likely constitutes evidence of premeditated intent to commit
war crimes.

“Gaza residents, the last time that we met on Eid al-Fitr, I was chief of
staff during Operation Protective Edge,” he says in the video over footage
of destruction.

“If Hamas does not stop its violence, the strike of 2021 will be harder and
more painful than that of 2014,” he promised.
Who decides?

The bigger question is why Facebook – which has nearly a third of the
world’s population on its platform – is able to decide what or who is

It appears, as Columbia University professor Joseph Massad has recently
that the criteria for who or what is considered “dangerous” or a
“terrorist” depends more on a person’s identity rather than what they do.

“It is not the act of ‘terrorism’ that defines the actor as ‘terrorist’ but
rather the opposite: It is the perpetrator’s conferred identity as
‘terrorist’ that defines his/her actions as ‘terrorist’ in nature,” Massad

Meanwhile, as Facebook cracked down on Palestinians, Israeli Jewish
extremists used instant messaging services to organize mob attacks
on Palestinian citizens of Israel.

This included Facebook groups and the Facebook-owned service WhatsApp.

There is no indication Facebook takes this sort of misuse of its platform
seriously, while banning Palestinian political groups, journalists and
discussion at Israel’s behest.
Calls for more censorship

Long before Israel’s assault on Gaza in May, Facebook was habitually taking
of Palestinian news organizations
often without prior notice or justification.

Last year, Facebook even removed
the page of the health ministry in Gaza – a vital source of information for
people there. It was restored following inquiries from The Electronic

But the censorship does not seem to be enough.

US media and political elites have been demanding increasing government
control and censorship of social media platforms in recent years.

The initial pretext was the evidence-free
that Russia had used social media, including Facebook, to manipulate the
outcome of the 2016 US presidential election to help Donald Trump win.

The leak in *The Intercept* and the Human Rights Watch report coincide with
a recent *Wall Street Journal* “investigation” supposedly examining leaked
internal Facebook documents.

The newspaper claims that the so-called Facebook Files
<https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-facebook-files-11631713039> reveal that
the company is responsible for a bewildering array of “harm[s]” ranging
from the poor self-image and mental health of teenage girls to violence in

Former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen, who leaked the documents,
has been feted as a “whistleblower” by congressional leaders and mainstream

Haugen was brought before Congress to provide fodder for those demanding
more censorship and control of public discussion on Facebook under the
guise of stopping countries like China and Iran from using the platform for
nefarious ends – a repurposing of the same old Russiagate narrative.

Haugen’s call for what *The Washington Post* termed
“expansive and ambitious” government regulation was enthusiastically
received by several leading lawmakers.

Journalist Max Blumenthal noted that Haugen’s claims “tracked so closely
with imperial US narrative.”

Interesting how the carefully prepared testimony of the Facebook
“whistleblower” tracked so closely with imperial US narratives. Did
Facebook also disconnect babies in Kuwait from their incubators?
pic.twitter.com/GBKitOoyQ9 <https://t.co/GBKitOoyQ9>
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) October 7, 2021

Naturally, the same quarters welcoming Haugen’s calls for increased
censorship of what people can say online have ignored the reality to which
Palestinians can already bear witness: Demanding that Silicon Valley
corporations act as arbiters of truth ultimately serves to crush dissent
and suppress the most vulnerable and marginalized voices.

That is likely what makes government regulation of online speech so
attractive to political elites.

*Ali Abunimah contributed reporting.*
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