Following the official announcement of Israel and Facebook's joint effort to censor social media content that “incites violence” against Israelis, the accounts of several Palestinian journalists and news agencies were blocked.
Only a few weeks after officially announcing its collaboration with Israel, Facebook has been caught suspending the accounts of Palestinian journalists. Editors of two Palestinian news publications, which are based in the West Bank, have reported that their Facebook accounts were suspended. No reason was initially provided for the sudden suspensions. This suggests that their accounts were suspended due to Facebook and Israel’s joint efforts to curb social media content that allegedly “incites violence” against Israelis.
Last week, four editors from the Shehab News Agency and three executives from the Quds News Network were also unable to access their personal accounts. Both agencies, which report on daily news for the occupied Palestinian territories, have millions of likes on Facebook, 6.3 million and 5.1 million respectively. Upon pressuring Facebook for an answer as to why the accounts were blocked, the social media giant responded that the accounts had been blocked “in error.” They said in a statement that “Our team processes millions of reports each week and we sometimes get things wrong.” All except one of the suspended accounts were restored a few days later, but the most recent suspensions are still in effect.
So far this year, the Israeli military (IDF) has charged more than 145 Palestinians for “incitement” via social media. This practice, which the Intercept made public in June, involves Israeli officials actively reviewing the content of Palestinian Facebook posts, which they then forward the requests for censorship to Facebook, who accepts the requests 95% of the time. Arrests of those “inciting violence” often follow. Despite this increasingly common practice, there is currently no legal precedent in Israel for charging people with an offense related to online content.
Israel became concerned with social media incitement following increased bouts of violence over the past year. According to the AFP news agency, 230 Palestinians and 34 Israelis have been killed since last October. Facebook, for its part, has been currying favor with Israel after 20,000 Israelis sued Facebook last year over its “disregard” for Palestinian “calls to violence.” Then, this past summer, an Israeli legal advocacy group with ties to Mossad sued Facebook for $1 billion for violating the US Anti-Terrorism Act by aiding Palestinians in “recruiting, radicalizing and instructing terrorists.”
Under pressure, Facebook caved in June of this year and hired Jordana Cutler, long-time Netanyahu adviser and former chief of staff at the US-Israeli embassy, as head of policy and communications for Facebook Israel. As cooperation between Facebook and Israel is more likely to become stronger than not in coming months, we can expect to see more “accidents” resulting in the social media censorship of Palestinian activists and their allies in the near future.
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