Social media platforms have revolutionized the way we communicate, but recent allegations have brought their impartiality into question. Across continents, from the US to India, activists and users accuse major platforms of limiting the visibility of content critical of Israel.
The Disappearing Engagement Mystery
Belgium-based filmmaker and activist, Thomas Maddens, experienced this alleged silencing firsthand. After posting a video about Palestine on TikTok that used the term “genocide,” the content's engagement nosedived after an initial surge.
“I thought I would have got millions of views,” Maddens expressed to Al Jazeera, clearly befuddled by the sudden drop in interaction. Similarly, Instagram, a subsidiary of Meta, has faced allegations of arbitrarily removing posts merely mentioning Palestine, citing a breach of “community guidelines”.
Meta's response was swift. On October 15, company spokesperson Andy Stone attributed the drop in engagement to a technical glitch. “This bug affected accounts equally around the globe and had nothing to do with the subject matter of the content – and we fixed it as quickly as possible,” Stone clarified.
A representative from TikTok also defended their platform, stating to Al Jazeera that they "do not moderate or remove content based on political sensitivities”. They continued, emphasizing that the platform removes content that infringes upon their community guidelines.
Skepticism from Civil Rights Groups
Despite these explanations, civil rights groups remain unconvinced. This month saw 48 organizations, including 7amleh (the Arab Centre for Social Media Advancement), urging tech giants to honor Palestinian digital rights, especially in the backdrop of the ongoing conflict.
The collective statement voiced deep concerns, stating, “We are [concerned] about significant and disproportionate censorship of Palestinian voices through content takedowns and hiding hashtags, amongst other violations”.
It underscored the gravity of the situation by emphasizing how these actions pose a "grave threat to freedom of expression and access to information, freedom of assembly, and political participation." Jalal Abukhater, 7amleh’s advocacy manager, highlighted that the organization had recorded 238 instances of pro-Palestinian censorship, mainly on Facebook and Instagram.
In a revealing interview with Al Jazeera, Abukhater argued, “There is a disproportionate effort that targets Palestine-related content. In contrast, the official Israeli narrative, as excessively violent as it could get, has got more of a free reign because Meta considers it to be coming from 'official' entities, including from the Israeli military and government officials”.