September 28, 2022 – A coalition of about 74 civil society and human rights organisations have signed a joint statement commending the report that highlighted violations of Palestinians’ right to freedom of expression on Meta-owned platforms throughout the May 2021 crisis with Israel. The statement calls on Meta to take recommendations laid out in the assessment “seriously”.
The report, released by Business for Social Change (BSR) on September 22, was commissioned to the consulting firm by Facebook’s parent company Meta to assess the impact of its content moderation policies and practices in Israel and Palestine throughout the escalation, which resulted in at least 200 deaths. The report highlighted Meta unfairly targeted Palestinians and violated their right to freedom of expression on platforms such as Instagram, where pro-Palestine posts were removed on more than one occasion, despite there being no breaches of the company’s community standards.
The joint statement, while appreciating BSR’s report, terms it “a step in the right direction” and calls for the implementation of recommendations proposed in the assessment for Meta in regards to moderation of the content from and about Palestine. The statement notes that digital and human rights organisations had been calling for an independent assessment of Meta’s content moderation policies for years due to the corporations’ constant and deliberate actions to censor the voices and narrative of Palestinians and those in solidarity with them. “We urge Meta to take decisive action to protect the voices of Palestinians among other oppressed peoples and groups around the world.”
The assessment pointed out that due to the lack of a Hebrew hostile speech classifier, the proactive detection rates for potentially violating Arabic content were higher than those for Hebrew, which led to a “greater over-enforcement” of posts from Arabic-speaking users. Meta had attributed pro-Palestine content takedowns to “global technical glitches”, raising eyebrows when the pattern continued throughout the escalation. The report cited impacts on Palestinians’ right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom to political participation.
The statement notes that Meta has been aware of the adverse impacts of its moderation practices in Palestine for years, as civil society and human rights organisations around the world have repeatedly raised concerns about them.
“Furthermore, though BSR accurately identified many root causes of the over-enforcement of content moderation on Palestinian and Arabic content, they have underestimated the role of the Israeli government,” reads the statement. “The Israeli cyber unit sends tens of thousands of voluntary content takedown requests annually to Meta, and the company has historically complied around 90% of the time.”
The statement adds Meta needs to take BSR’s recommendation seriously and improve their Hebrew language content moderation by introducing a Hebrew hate speech lexicon.
“Finally, these recommendations will only be successfully implemented if Meta truly commits to a co-design process with civil society, as well as if it provides a detailed timeline for exactly how they will commit to, and implement these recommendations in full transparency and in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”