Facebook-owned Instagram has made changes to its algorithm after a group of its employees reportedly complained that pro-Palestinian content was not viewable for users during Israel’s 11-day aggression on the Gaza Strip.
Instagram typically surfaces original content in its stories before reposted content, but will now begin to give equal weighting to both, the company confirmed to The Verge on Sunday.
BuzzFeed News and the Financial Times reported that Instagram employee group had made numerous appeals about content that had been censored by Instagram’s automated moderation, such as posts about the al-Asqa mosque being removed.
The employees didn’t believe the censorship was deliberate, according to the Financial Times, but one said that “moderating at scale is biased against any marginalized groups.”
The change is not only in response to concerns over pro-Palestinian content, a Facebook spokesperson said in an email to The Verge, but the company realized the way the app functioned— bubbling up posts that it believes its users care about most— led people to believe it was suppressing certain points of view or topics.
“We want to be really clear— this isn’t the case,” the spokesperson said. “This applied to any post that’s re-shared in stories, no matter what it’s about.”
Lately, hundreds of social media users have been reporting the social media websites for deleting their posts, shutting down their personal accounts and censoring content about Israeli forces and settlers attacking Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque and Israel’s recent aggression on the Gaza Strip.
The social media users from Palestine and around the world have uploaded and shared videos and images about Israeli forces and settlers attacks and aggression, using the hashtags #SaveSheikhJarrah, #GazaUnderAttack, in both English and Arabic.
However, social media websites have censored, limited, and shut down their accounts, silencing their voices while they are fighting against the occupation.
Another hashtag, Al-Aqsa in Arabic, has also been hidden by Instagram, because, as it claims, the “content may not meet Instagram’s Community Guidelines.”
The hashtag was used to cover the settlers and forces’ violence and attacks against the Palestinian worhipers in al-Aqsa mosque courtyards.
Palestinians are no strangers to such restrictions on social media.
For years, American apps, including Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp, have been deleting and deactivating the accounts of Palestinians in coordination with the Israeli government and security agencies, on the pretext of preventing Palestinian “incitement and hate speech” on its platform, stifling the Palestinian voices.
On May 2020, Facebook deleted the accounts of more than 50 Palestinian journalists and activists, saying their accounts had been deactivated for “not following our Community Standards,” according to Sada Social.
Sada Social said it documented 38 violations against Palestinian content in April 2021 only.
Sada Social, along with two news agencies and a translator, last week, said it filed a 14-page legal complaint with Facebook, saying the social media giant censored their posts and, in some cases, shut down their accounts in violation of the company’s own policies.
7amleh, a nonprofit that focuses on Palestinians’ digital rights, highlighted more than 500 incidents in a report in which Palestinian political speech had been censored during Israeli violence against Palestinians.
According to the report, content and accounts were removed, reduced and restricted, hashtags were hidden, and archived content deleted. 50% of these reports were about Instagram, 35% Facebook, 11% Twitter and 1% Tik Tok. 3% of the reports did not include sufficient information to be reported to companies.