Digital colonialism: Palestine voices censored by social media giants

Social Media Editorial credit: Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

Following the violent escalation in occupied Palestine complaints of mass online censorship targeting pro-Palestine accounts have flooded social media, writes Robert Carter.

Many social media users, including Palestinian journalists, news agencies and online Muslim/Arab influencers have been affected since the public condemnation of Israel went viral.

High profile examples include Al-Hadith Newspaper, PalToday News Agency, Palestinian journalist Muna Hawwa, and a Palestinian-heritage model Bella Hadid who was falsely accused of calling for Jewish people to be thrown into the sea by an official Israeli account.

However, despite the many complaints, hopes of reforms remain very low as Palestinians find it more difficult to express their concerns online.

Speaking to 5Pillars, Gaza-based journalist and activist Wafaa A. AlUdaini says the problem of censorship is an old one for Palestinians.

“There are so many Palestinian activists that have their accounts disabled or restricted. I myself have had several accounts disabled over the past few years. I have lost around six accounts on Facebook alone.”

Mark Zuckerberg. Editorial credit: Frederic Legrand – COMEO / Shutterstock.com

AlUdaini added: “I totally believe that social media administrations do believe in the power of their platforms, in creating revolutions against injustice and against governments. So that’s why they create censorship. We (Palestinians) believe there are agreements between Israel and social media giants to silence the truth.”

UK-based Palestinian activist Lara Motaz told 5Pillars about her experiences on social media since the latest flare-up began.

“A few people’s accounts that I know of have been closed due to posting on social media. Either that or have been warned that their accounts will be closed if they continue to post as it goes against their ‘guidelines’. They can neither post nor go live.

“The fact that the media tower in Palestine was bombed shows how important media is. It shows that the truth is being hidden. Social media is a very strong tool to raise awareness, we all use it and it’s open to everybody. Social media is clearly very biased. Pro-Israel posts are free to stay but celebrities who have posted their feelings about Palestine, later on deleted them because of the warnings they must have gotten.”

An example of this was how American celebrity, Paris Hilton, reportedly deleted tweets sympathising with Palestinians this week.

Rumours speculate that she was pressured to delete the tweets amid a backlash of criticism and online abuse.

Israel targets Muslim YouTubers

Elsewhere, many popular Muslim YouTubers have begun complaining about a new wave of Israeli propaganda adverts which have started being attached to their pro-Palestine video content.

The adverts, which contain Israeli state claims that Israel is attacking Gaza in self-defence, have reportedly begun appearing since global attention turned to Palestine.

Adam Saleh, Smile To Jannah and Ali Dawah are just a few popular YouTube accounts that have complained about these issues to their followers.

In a recent video, Ali Dawah, a UK-based Muslim YouTuber, who’s been critical of Israel in recent videos, has urged his fellow Muslim users to block a specific Israeli government website in order to stop unwanted propaganda from being shared.

“Brothers and sisters, that’s the video. Share it, with all the Muslim YouTubers. They all have to block those ads. This is your duty,” Ali Dawah told his 617K subscribers.

Demands for reform

One online Palestinian platform designed to protect content shared by Palestinians told 5Pillars that the problem is getting worse.

Iyad Alrefaei, the Social Director of Sada Social, said: “New types of restrictions on Palestinian content have appeared. Such as the prevention of new viral hashtags. Instagram prevented access to the al-Aqsa hashtag during the Ramadan attacks.”

Alrefaei continued: “In fact, what is being exerted is great pressure on the communication platforms to prevent the publication of all types of Palestinian discourse so that it does not reach the world and becomes public opinion.”

Sada Social has demanded Big Tech to review the software that restricts Palestinian content.

“The software restricting Palestinians should be reviewed as this software does not deal with terminology according to the context. More specific policies should be developed instead of the broad general policies that are used to restrict Palestinian content. We have witnessed more than 1,200 violations in total during the past year. This includes TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.”

Earlier this month, on May 14th, the Head of the Palestinian Mission to the UK, Husam Zomlot, met with Facebook Director of Public Policy, Ebele Okobi, to deliver an official complaint of censorship and a request to end the deleting of Palestinian posts.

Tech giant denials

Social media users around the world have disseminated images and video content on Israeli attacks, using the hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah in both English and Arabic.

As violence escalated last week, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were all accused of removing content that shared information on evictions of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah.

Some social-media companies have admitted to takedowns and account blockages. However, Instagram apologised following news that many accounts couldn’t post content related to Palestine for several hours on May 6.

Instagram claimed however that this was part of a broader technical problem that affected posts from many countries about a wide range of topics.

“Many people thought we were removing their content because of what they posted or what hashtag they used, but this bug wasn’t related to the content itself,” Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, tweeted.

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