The actions taken by Facebook and its parent Meta during last year’s Gaza war violated Palestinian users’ rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, political participation and non-discrimination, in a report commissioned by the social media company has been found.
Thursday’s report from independent consulting firm Business for Social Responsibility reaffirmed long-standing criticisms of META’s policies and their uneven enforcement as it pertains to the Israel-Palestinian conflict: it found that the company had found Arabic content and under its On arrival the rules were enforced. Materials applied in Hebrew.
However, the meta did not find intentional bias, either by the company or among individual employees. The report’s authors stated that they found “no evidence of racial, ethnic, national, or religious animosity in the governing teams” and noted the meta has “staff representing different perspectives, nationalities, races, ethnicities and religions related to this conflict.” “
Instead, it found many examples of unintended bias that harmed the rights of Palestinian and Arabic-speaking users.
In response, Meta said it plans to implement some of the report’s recommendations, including improving the Hebrew-language “classifier” that uses artificial intelligence to automatically remove infringing posts. helps.
“There is no quick, overnight fix for many of these recommendations, as BSR makes clear,” the company, based in Menlo Park, California, said in a blog post Thursday. “While we have already made significant changes as a result of this exercise, this process will take time – including time to understand how some of these recommendations may best be addressed, and whether they are technically are viable.”
The report confirmed Meta also made serious errors in enforcement. For example, as the Gaza war broke out last May, Instagram briefly banned the hashtag #AlAqsa, a reference to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, a flash point in the conflict. Is.
Meta, which owns Instagram, later apologized, saying its algorithm had mistook the third holiest site in Islam for the terrorist group al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, an armed wing of the secular Fatah party.
The report finalizes the issues raised in internal documents from Facebook whistleblower Frances Hogen, indicating that the company’s problems are systemic and have long been known inside meta.
A major failure is the lack of moderators in languages other than English, including Arabic – among the most common languages on Meta’s platforms.
For users in Gaza, Syria and other Middle East regions affected by the conflict, the issues raised in the report are nothing new.
For example, Israeli security agencies and watchdogs have monitored Facebook and bombarded it with thousands of orders to remove Palestinian accounts and posts as they try to crack down on provocation.
Ashraf Zitoon, Facebook’s former policy chief for the Middle East and North Africa region, who left in 2017, told the Associated Press last year, “They completely overwhelm our systems.” “It forces the system to err on the side of Israel.”
Israel experienced an intense spate of violence in May 2021 – with weeks of tension in East Jerusalem escalating into an 11-day war with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. The violence spread to Israel itself, with the country experiencing the worst sectarian violence between Jewish and Arab citizens in years.
In an interview this week, Israel’s national police chief, Kobi Shabtai, told the Yediyet Aharonot daily that he believed social media fueled sectarian fighting. He called for the closure of social media if similar violence happened again and said that he had suggested blocking social media last year to douse the flames.
“I am talking about shutting down the network completely, easing the situation on the ground, and reactivating them when it is calming down,” he was quoted as saying. “We are a democratic country, but there is a limit.”
The comments sparked an uproar and the police issued a clarification saying their proposal was only for extreme cases. Omar Barlev, the cabinet minister overseeing the police, also said Shabtai had no authority to impose such a ban.
Associated Press reporter Joseph Federman contributed from Jerusalem.