Mark Zuckerberg’s social media giant is restricting “legitimate speech” over the crisis in Gaza, according to a report
Meta, the social media giant that operates Facebook, Instagram, and other widely used online services, is systematically censoring content in support of Palestine during the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has claimed.
In a report published on Wednesday, the group alleged that the Mark Zuckerberg-led Big Tech company has removed or suppressed large amounts of pro-Palestine posts for a variety of reasons. These include an “overreliance” on automated content moderation tools and what it refers to as “undue government influence.”
“Meta’s censorship of content in support of Palestine adds insult to injury at a time of unspeakable atrocities and repression already stifling Palestinians’ expression,” HRW’s acting associate technology and human rights director, Deborah Brown, noted in the report.
“Social media is an essential platform for people to bear witness and speak out against abuses while Meta’s censorship is furthering the erasure of Palestinians’ suffering,” Brown said.
HRW examined over 1,000 cases of Meta’s censorship across 60 countries, the report said, and found a “pattern of undue removal and suppression of protected speech,” which included “peaceful expression in support of Palestine.”
It added that in dozens of instances, the social media firm removed posts documenting the Gaza crisis. It justified these removals by referring to the platform’s policies on “violent and graphic content, violence and incitement [and] hate speech.”
In other cases of posts being removed, the HRW report said that Meta cited a policy that aims to limit “organizations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission” from having an influence on its platforms. However, according to HRW, this policy has been used to “restrict legitimate free speech.”
It added that errors in Meta’s user interaction system meant that about a third of censored or removed posts could not be formally appealed.
Earlier this week, Meta’s independent oversight board was critical of the firm for removing content that displayed the scale of suffering in Gaza. The board’s co-chair, Michael McConnell, said that posts such as these provide “time and diverse information about ground-breaking events.”
Last year, Meta said it intended to adjust its content moderation systems in response to recommendations from its oversight board – but HRW claimed in the report that no such action had been taken. “Instead of tired apologies and empty promises, Meta should demonstrate that it is serious about addressing Palestine-related censorship once and for all,” Brown insisted.
Hamas’ October 7 cross-border attack resulted in the deaths of about 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians. Gaza’s health ministry has said that about 20,000 people have so far died in Israel’s retaliatory offensive in the besieged enclave.