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.
“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.
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.”
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.”