Facebook labels Palestinian journalism “hate speech”

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, meets with military personnel at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island, May 2017. The social media giant has proven eager to comply with censorship orders from powerful governments, especially the US and Israel. (US Naval War College)

Facebook is defending its decision to shut down the page of a major Palestinian news outlet, describing the action as a move against “hate speech.”

On Saturday, the social media giant closed without warning the page of the Safa Palestinian Press Agency, which had 1.3 million followers, as well as Safa’s account on the photo sharing site Instagram.

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Media Association condemned Facebook’s widening assault on the free speech of Palestinian journalists, calling it “clear submission to the policies and dictates of the Israeli occupation which is pursuing Palestinian activists on the basis of their political views and intellectual positions and issuing prison sentences against them.”

But Facebook is justifying the removal of Safa’s account. “This page was correctly removed for violating our community standards,” a company spokesperson emailed The Electronic Intifada Monday evening. “There is no room for hate speech or incitement of violence on our platform.”

The spokesperson provided no evidence to back up the company’s accusations against Safa, but asserted, “We care about the voices, opinion and rights of all the different communities on Facebook; however, keeping our community safe is our priority.”

By referring to “hate speech” and “incitement” as justifications to silence journalists, Facebook has adopted the framework of Israel, which routinely uses such broad and ill-defined terms to describe virtually all criticism of its violent military occupation over Palestinians or of its state ideology, Zionism.

The company did not respond to a question about whether it had taken the action against Safa based on a request from Israel.

“Eagerness”

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald has previously written and spoken about Facebook’s collusion with Israel and the United States to silence voices they don’t like.

“Facebook has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness – at times bordering on eagerness – to curry favor with powerful governments by deleting content that they dislike,” Greenwald told The Electronic Intifada on Tuesday.

“One of the countries to which Facebook has proven itself most subservient is the Israeli government, and as a result, it has engaged in a year-long censorship spree against Palestinians whose crime is that they express views and engage in activism that Israeli officials dislike.”

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Facebook’s latest crackdown on Palestinian journalists and activists began several weeks ago, after Israeli occupation forces extrajudicially executed Ahmad Nasser Jarrar, a man Israel claims was involved in the shooting death of an Israeli settler in early January.

Israeli lawmakers also discussed how to suppress online content, including getting Facebook to take down images of Jarrar.

Since the beginning of the year, Haaretz says, citing an unnamed Palestinian activist who monitors the issue, about 500 Facebook pages of Palestinian activists and journalists have been closed by the company.

Wide-ranging coverage

According to Haaretz, Safa has been operating for a decade as a “Hamas-affiliated” counterpart to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency that is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah faction led by Mahmoud Abbas.

But Safa’s website shows that its reporting is fairly typical of a wide range of Palestinian media outlets, covering violence by Israeli occupation forces against Palestinians, local, regional and international politics, and human interest stories.

The outlet carries reports on the activities of all political factions. On Tuesday, for instance, one of its lead stories was on a cabinet meeting led by Rami Hamdallah, the PA prime minister, in which Hamdallah asserted that his government “will not abandon our people in Gaza.”

Hamas and the PA remain bitter rivals over who should run Gaza.

The report includes the PA’s claims about the achievements of its efforts in Gaza, such as bringing together 55 countries at a donors conference last week to fund a $565 million water desalination plant in the Israeli-blockaded coastal territory.

Another report Tuesday carries a statement by Abbas’ official spokesperson describing recent US decisions to cut aid to the PA as “a war on our people.”

Obeying censorship

Palestinians are avid users of Facebook and it is often a primary source of information about what is happening in their communities.

But social media has made it hard for Israel’s censors to control information flowing from and to Palestinians under their military rule.

Last week, an Israeli military court sentenced Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi to eight months in prison for slapping a heavily armed occupation soldier in the West Bank.

It also sentenced her mother Nariman for filming the incident and streaming it on Facebook.

Israel’s persecution of the Tamimi family over the incident has become an international rallying point for Palestine solidarity.

But for now, Israel appears to have solved its Facebook problem by leaning on the company to submit to its commands.

According to Glenn Greenwald, “Facebook has empowered Israeli officials to control its content by obeying their censorship dictates in almost all cases.”

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Comments

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This is wrong . Is there a petition or an action to protest this? I rely on EI for information about the Middle East and I do get it in my email, but it needs to be seen by as many people as possible.

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This is beyond disgusting. Zuckerberg/Facebook willing to sabotage the rights of American citizens to say and read what they wish on one of the most important issues of our time. And at the bidding of a foreign government. THIS is treason. He and Facebook are now agents of a foreign government undermining the Constitutional rights of American citizens as well as silencing the voices of those whose illegal and brutal oppression by Israel our government is subsidizing and protecting. And anyone who criticizes him will probably be called an anti-semite. Or a self-hating Jew when appropriate.

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Must be possible to break this crack Down by making e- mail chains.

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I would like to know how I can express my objections to Facebook's actions directly to Facebook. The message that I want to send is to permit all Palestinian Arab support pages and messages, and remove all Israeli support messages for many reasons, including however that Israel is an apartheid state.

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Just deleted my facebook account and messenger too. Noticed that it does not seem to be a trustworthy application. Zuckenberg will probably be ducking many country's request to question Mark. He has probably has broken privacy laws in quite a few countries. The looming fines and possible jail time are evidence of Mark Zuckenberg's abusing peoples data.

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I am angry and frustrated at the inability of justice to prevail when an organization like Facebook takes unjustified action to cut off communication to those already suffering under the occupation. What is even more frustrating is there is nothing I or an ordinary person can do to stop this outrageous practice.

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A wonder that FaceBook alow Am. republicans hate speech against democrats.

A wonder, that people still use FaceBook - it's convenient, but you become their product and you sell your soul to the devil (you know, what I mean - I do not believe in gods nor devils - I only meet humans of that kind).

A wonder, that buying oranges, people only go for low price - boycott Israeli products.

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Closing down Palestinian accounts at the bejhest of Israel is the last straw for me. Today I close my Facebook account.

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Just de-activated my Facebook account - reason given to Facebook:
‘Facebook supports terrorism and ethnic cleansing against innocent victims of Western colonialism.’

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The hate speech is inappropriate as a kind of demagogy. Demagogy may be both pro-Palestinian and anti-Palestinian, pro-Israelian and anti-Israelian. Otherwise, all the four kinds of those views themselves must not be obstacled, if expressed juridical or politcal way.

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This is why I have put Facebook on suspension. Ali, if it were not for you and Mondoweiss, we would not know what evils go on daily in WB, G, and J.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.