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Facebook went blind on Palestinians cries during May violence: Report

Facebook went blind on Palestinians cries during May violence: Report

Facebook wrongfully suppressed content related to Palestine during the flare-up violence in May 2021, found by an investigation by Human Rights Watch. Social media users have been alleging that the posts related to Palestine were being suppressed on Facebook and Instagram.

The HRW said on Friday that "Facebook has wrongfully removed and suppressed content by Palestinians and their supporters. This includes posts about human rights abuses carried out in Israel and Palestine during the May 2021 hostilities," reported Arab News.

In May 2021, the conflict between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops escalated. Many Palestinians took to social media to document these incidents and spread the news across the world. Countless users from other parts of the world reached out with support and demanded justice. It was alleged that these users observed a dip in their reach whenever they posted in support of Palestine. Some posts were entirely removed from networks.

After an internal investigation, Facebook had admitted that it made some errors in making decisions. The HRW said that acknowledgement of errors and attempts to correct some of them are insufficient and do not address the scale and scope of reported content restrictions. The organisation added that Facebook hasn't explained why these errors occurred in the first place.

The HRW pointed out an instance in which Instagram deleted a photograph of a destroyed building captioned "this is a photo of my family's building before it was struck by Israeli missiles on Saturday, May 15, 2021." In another instance, a political cartoon depicting Palestinians as oppressed and not as people fighting a religious war with Israel was also removed, said the Arab News report.

Facebook was also seen attaching warnings of "upsetting" content to some posts that spoke of human rights issues in Palestine. Some posts were censored for or mentioning "Al-Aqsa mosque" - one of the holiest sites in Islam and the most revered place for Muslims in Jerusalem.

All these posts were removed for containing hate speech or symbols of hate speech. It suggests that Instagram is restricting freedom of expression on matters of public interest, said HRW. Facebook's seemingly well-intentioned filtering tools contributed to silencing Palestinian voices.

Deborah Brown, senior digital rights researcher and advocate at HRW told Arab News that Facebook suppressed the content about human rights issues posted by Palestinians and their supporters. "This kind of automatic content removal hampers journalism. It jeopardizes the future ability of judicial mechanisms to provide a remedy for victims and accountability for perpetrators of serious crimes".

The human rights body suggested that Facebook conduct an independent investigation into the censorship during the conflict.

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