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Timeline: Facebook’s history cracking down on Palestinian content

Occupied Palestine (QNN)- Calls have been recently increasing in protest against Facebook’s repression of Palestinian voices.

However, despite activists’ and NGOs’ calls to reform its policies and fix its algorithms to make its platforms more free speech friendly, the company continued its spinning and escaping efforts, and changing its name has apparently changed nothing for Palestinian users.

Here is how Facebook’s, or let’s say Meta’s, hostility against Palestine started as QNN remembers it.

2008: New Israeli battleground

Although the international arena started to realize that Facebook is being used as a tool to repress free speech, the whole thing started very early as 2008, only four years after the social media platform was created.

In March 2008, the then Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, addressed zionist youths during an event marking the Holocaust, calling them to use Facebook in order to “fight anti-semitism”.

Olmert’s call was accompanied by official steps, which turned the communication platform into a battleground. In the period between 2008 and 2010, Facebook removed the official page of Palestine’s elected Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyyeh, in addition to pages of Palestinian figures including Dalal Al Mughrabi.

Despite the massages, which were sent to Facebook’s administration in protest against the removal, Facebook did not respond, neither it provided the reasons behind the removals.

In 2010, a report by the BBC revealed that the Mossad was using Facebook to spy on Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, and recruit them.

2011: Comprehensive repression

In 2011, Facebook started an extensive campaign targeting accounts of Palestinians. A page calling for a Third Intifada, with over 250,000 participants, was removed by the website. Also, pages of celebrities, who showed solidarity with the Palestinian people, and accounts, which marked the Nakba, were all removed.

The website’s campaign to remove accounts of Palestinian figures did not stop as well. All of that triggered a Palestinian campaign to boycott Facebook.

2014: Facebook’s war on Palestinian journalism starts

Although Facebook’s repression of Palestinian content started very early, its war on Palestinian journalism has not started until 2014.

Between 2014 and 2016, 61 Palestinian journalists and nine Israeli journalists have been prosecuted for online posts, according to a report from Mada.

While between 2015 and 2016, ‘Israel’ arrested more than 400 Palestinians because of content they circulated online, often on Facebook, that ‘Israel’ alleged amounted to “incitement”.

In September 2016, senior journalists from Shehab and Quds News Network agencies reported their Facebook accounts – used to update professional pages which reach millions of people – had been temporarily suspended, in a move Facebook later said had been an error.

In the same year, the Palestinian Information Centre (Pic) reported that at least 10 of their administrators’ accounts for their Arabic and English Facebook pages – followed by more than two million people – have been suspended, seven of them permanently. The page of Safa News was also suspended twice in the same year.

On the other hand, in 2014, thousands of Israelis used Facebook to post messages “calling for the murder of Palestinians.” When an IOF occupying soldier was arrested for shooting and killing a wounded Palestinian point blank in the head last year, IOF soldiers used Facebook to praise the killing and justify that violence, with online Israeli mobs gathering in support. Facebook did not take any measures against the posts.

In 2016, a study found that “122,000 [Israeli] users directly called for violence with words like ‘murder,’ ‘kill,’ or ‘burn.’ Arabs were the No. 1 recipients of hateful comments.” Yet there appears to be little effort by Facebook to censor any of that.

2017: The repression becomes official

At the end of 2016, the Associated Press reported that “the Israeli government and Facebook have agreed to work together to determine how to tackle incitement on the social media network.”

The meetings were taking place while the occupation state was legislatively forcing Facebook to censor content deemed by Israeli officials to be improper.

‘Israel’ was represented in this meeting with Facebook by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, an extremist who has previously said she does not believe in a Palestinian state and called for eliminating Palestinian women and children, calling them little snakes.

At the time, she boasted that Facebook is already extremely compliant with Israeli censorship demands: “Over the past four months Israel submitted 158 requests to Facebook to remove inciting content,” she said, and Facebook has accepted those requests in 95 percent of the cases.

In 2017, the social media platform seem to be carried away, so it translated a “good morning” message by a Palestinian man into “attack them”, putting the man in trouble with the Israelis, who summoned him for interrogation.

2019: Increased repression

During Trump’s term, the repression against Palestinians, both on the ground and online, increased. According to 7amleh, the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, recorded at least 30 violations in the space of a week immediately after Trump’s December 6 declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 90 percent of cases concern Facebook, which remains the most popular platform among Palestinians.

Meanwhile, 7amleh also documented a racist post is published by Israelis against Arabs or Palestinians every 46 seconds.

“It’s about the governments who are powerful. And if you come to the Israelis and tell them we have here a market of few hundreds millions of shekels that you are benefiting [from], obviously you have a leverage. Adding to the money, it’s also about the hi-tech industry in Israel [and how] powerful [it is],” said 7amleh director Nadim Nashif to AlJazeera.

Facebook confirmed the reports, when its head of policy and communications in ‘Israel’, Jordana Cutler, said that the network works “very closely with the cyber departments in the justice ministry and the police and with other elements in the army and the Shin Bet”.

Moreover, in the same year, an investigation by the Guardian revealed that an Israeli group has been running a hate speech campaign against Muslims and the Left around the globe to gain profit.

2021: Facebook’s repression internationally exposed

In 2020 and 2021, Facebook’s repression against Palestinian content, especially news content, increased. However, what made these years different was that the social media giant took its repression to a whole new level. Earlier this year, Frances Haugen, a data scientist who used to work for Facebook, revealed that the company was promoting hate speech for profit, and said her lawyers have filed at least eight complaints with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Shortly after that, a report by The Intercept revealed that Facebook has a secret blacklist, upon which its algorithms depend in censoring content. The blacklist includes dozens of Palestinian figures and organizations and zero Israeli targets.

An investigation by Human Rights Watch stated that Facebook and Instagram repressed Palestinian content, including documentation of Israeli human rights violations, during the Israeli crackdown on native Palestinians in May this year. The investigation pushed Facebook to promise that it will allow an independent body to launch an investigation into content moderation of Arabic and Hebrew posts.

However, only one month after its promise, Facebook, which decided earlier to change its name to “Meta”, cracked down on Palestinian news pages and personal accounts, removing dozens of them due to their coverage of the Jerusalem resistance operation.

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