After much anticipation and delay, an independent consultancy finally released its report on the conduct of Meta — the social media giant that runs Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp — during the events of May 2021 in Israel-Palestine.
Following a bout of censorship during that violent month — which witnessed a mass Palestinian uprising, Israeli repression, and a war on Gaza — Meta commissioned Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) to conduct a review into its moderation policies for Arabic and Hebrew language content across all three platforms, and to produce a human rights due diligence report.
Among its key findings, the BSR report observed that Meta’s censorship not only violated Palestinians’ fundamental rights, but that the company did not apply its content moderation policies equally to the two languages. Rather, Arabic content was overly moderated, while Hebrew content was largely untouched.
The conclusions are far from surprising. In fact, they firmly validate the lived experience of the majority of Palestinian users across all of Meta’s platforms, who have long argued that the company’s censorship practices are both discriminatory and systematic. The findings further add to the heaps of evidence, documented over many years, showing that Meta is far from a neutral intermediary when it comes to Israel-Palestine.
Still, while the report is a welcomed outcome for transparency and accountability, it also falls short on recognizing the larger context that underpins Meta’s biased policies and actions — biases that emerged not just by accident, but by design.
Shadowbans and overenforcement
During Israel’s brutal crackdown on Palestinian protestors in the Old City of Jerusalem and the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in late April and May 2021, along with the military onslaught on Gaza and the uprising that ensued, many Palestinians took to social media to document, by the minute, the Israeli regime’s violence and human rights abuses. They also used the platforms to debunk disinformation about what was happening on the ground, and to share an authentic, alternative narrative to both mainstream press coverage and Israeli government propaganda.
Almost immediately, social media companies, including Meta, began clamping down on Palestinian speech. Accounts belonging to Palestinian activists, journalists, and eyewitnesses were arbitrarily suspended and their content systematically taken down. Some users also experienced shadowbans soon after they expressed public support and solidarity with Palestinians, with others finding that their Palestine-related posts had greatly reduced visibility among their followers.