Have EU warnings caused a surge in censorship of posts criticizing Israel?

Elon Musk is among the owners of social media companies to have received a threatening letter from the European Commission this month. (Wikimedia Commons)

Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza brings to mind an observation by the novelist Arundhati Roy: “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.”

Not only are civilians being slaughtered en masse, those who manage to stay alive are being deliberately silenced.

An internet blackout means that a people under bombardment and a tightened blockade cannot communicate with each other or with the outside world. While some journalists and commentators in Gaza have displayed enormous resourcefulness by continuing to post material on social media despite the blackout, everyone has found their scope for doing so drastically curtailed.

The internet blackout is taking place amid a concerted push by Israel’s supporters for censorship of material sympathetic to Palestinians and their struggle.

The European Union – which has pledged full solidarity to Israel – is leading this push.

On 10 October, the EU’s self-proclaimed “digital enforcer” Thierry Breton sent a warning to Elon Musk, the head of X (previously Twitter).

Bretton’s letter referred to the surprise Hamas-led offensive against Israel a few days earlier before reminding Musk that the EU’s Digital Services Act “sets very precise obligations regarding content moderation.”

Musk was “invited” to report within 24 hours on the “crisis measures” taken to address allegations that “violent and terrorist content” circulates on X. He was informed that “penalties can be imposed” if he failed to comply with EU legislation.

The letter did not define “violent and terrorist content.”

Yet it is known that the EU has been cooperating closely with Israel on so-called “terrorism” for many years. Through that cooperation, the EU has sought to legitimize the agenda pursued by Israel, which labels as “terrorist” all resistance – armed and otherwise – to its military occupation.

The European Commission – the EU’s executive – has subsequently sent similar letters to Meta (the owner of Facebook and Instagram) and TikTok. Writing to YouTube, Breton alleged that “we are seeing a surge in illegal content and disinformation” on certain websites.

It is hardly coincidental that over the past few weeks social media websites have appeared increasingly hostile toward material which tells the raw truth about Israel.

Vast numbers of people who post about Palestine have complained of being “shadow-banned” (whereby their content is rendered invisible or far less visible than it would be under “normal” circumstances).

Some material has been removed completely. A popular video by BreakThrough News outlining how Israel is one of the world’s most racist countries has been deleted by Instagram.

The European Commission is capitalizing on Israel’s latest war against Gaza in order to introduce even more stringent censorship.

An open internet?

Last week, it called on all 27 EU governments to appoint “digital service coordinators.”

While the EU’s Digital Service Act sets a deadline of February 2024 for setting up the coordinators’ network, the European Commission wants the appointments made straight away.

Thierry Breton is one of several EU commissioners advocating political censorship. Another is Vera Jourova, his Czech colleague.

Jourova reported this week that she had a “useful discussion” with Nick Clegg – the former deputy prime minister in Britain and now a big cheese in Meta. She told Clegg that the EU’s laws dealing with “terrorist content” on the internet “must be respected.”

Ironically, Jourova has also been taking a stance lately against what she calls “autocratic models of internet governance.”
She claims to want a web that “remains open, accessible and safe for us all.”

As Jourova is a stalwart ally of Israel, she clearly does not regard Palestinians as belonging to “us.”

The deliberate silencing of Gaza’s people is racist and genocidal. The censorship of Palestine solidarity activists is clearly autocratic.

Far from opposing censorship, the European Commission is insisting on it.