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Senator Demands Answers on Reports of Facebook Censoring Pro-Palestinian Content

The US senator Elizabeth Warren issued a letter on Thursday to Mark Zuckerberg demanding information relating to allegations of suppression of pro-Palestine content on Meta platforms.

Warren cited a statement co-signed by more than 90 human rights and civil rights organizations and listed various media reports and concerns about Meta’s censorship, removal and mistranslation of Palestine-related content since Hamas attacks on Israel escalated conflict there in October.

“Amidst the horrific Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, a humanitarian catastrophe including the deaths of thousands of civilians in Gaza, and the killing of dozens of journalists, it is more important than ever that social media platforms do not censor truthful and legitimate content, particularly as people around the world turn to online communities to share and find information about developments in the region,” Warren said in the letter, first published by the Intercept.

Hundreds of users have reported that posts on Instagram related to Palestine were limited or removed with little explanation, while others have found their accounts entirely suspended. Meta previously attributed these removals to glitches in its systems, but an independent analysis commissioned by the company in 2021 found that it had previously violated Palestinian human rights by censoring content related to previous Israeli attacks on Gaza.

The letter also cites a report from the Wall Street Journal that revealed Meta had implemented a “temporary risk response measure” that automatically flagged posts about Palestine at a higher rate. The company’s system typically hides or suppresses content when they are 80% certain it is inflammatory, but in the weeks after the 7 October attacks it reduced that threshold to 25%.

Such alleged removals and suppressions are ongoing, with Columbia University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine stating its Instagram account was suspended without explanation on 12 December. On 13 December Instagram introduced a new fact-checking tool that many claimed was disproportionately filtering out information about Palestine.

In addition to expressing concern about the alleged censorship, Warren noted other disturbing incidents, including one in which Instagram mistakenly added “terrorist” to profiles of Palestinian users.

Meta did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Warren posed dozens of questions to Zuckerberg relating to exactly how Meta moderates content and why, while requesting a list of every instance in the past five years in which Meta has changed the content-moderation threshold for a particular nation or territory and the numbers of posts removed from the platform. She also requested details on whether Meta made changes following the inquiry into its 2021 suppression of Palestinian voices.

“Reports of Meta’s suppression of Palestinian voices raise serious questions about Meta’s content moderation practices and anti-discrimination protections,” she wrote. “Social media users deserve to know when and why their accounts and posts are restricted, particularly on the largest platforms where vital information-sharing occurs.”

Warren has requested answers to these questions by 5 January 2024.


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