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21 May 2021

Facebook accused of anti-Palestinian bias by digital rights group and Palestinian news agencies

3 mins

On Wednesday, digital rights group Sada Social and a number of Palestinian News Agencies sent a formal complaint to Facebook for the arbitrary censorship of content posted on the platform by Palestinian journalists and commentators.

The complaint, which was also sent to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, requests an urgent review of and explanation for decisions made by Facebook to suspend accounts and posts which are affiliated to Palestinian news agencies and commentators.

Digital rights group Sada Social has been monitoring the suspension of Palestinian content and accounts on Facebook and other social media platforms since 2017. This year the group has documented hundreds of instances of inappropriate censorship of social media content which supports the rights of Palestinians by social media platforms. They are currently investigating 159 Palestinian related Facebook accounts, which appear to have been censored without good reason.

The letter, sent by leading London law firm Bindmans LLP, comes amidst a recent and very clear escalation in journalistic censorship that has taken place in the occupied Palestinian territory.  The complaints to Facebook have been made by Sada Social, Al-Hadath Newspaper PalToday News Agency, Metras, Mumen Jameel Muhammed Meqdad and Ultra Palestine. Their complaints include that Facebook has breached their fundamental right to freedom of expression and Facebook’s own Corporate Human Rights Policy. 

The letter states:

Our client’s concerns have been heightened due to recent events including an apparent increase in the censoring of Palestinian based Facebook content and by public statements made by representatives of the Israeli government.

The Israeli authorities have been previously criticised for the targeting of Palestinian journalists and media institutions by leading human rights organisations.

As recently as 15 May 2021 Israeli forces targeted and destroyed a 12 Story building in Gaza, which contained a well-known media centre, housing a number of media outlets including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera.

We note that on 13 May 2021, just two days prior to the attack on the media centre Israel’s Justice Minister, Benny Gantz, met with Facebook executives to make representations to limit pro-Palestinian content on Facebook as well as other social media sites.

Bindmans Partner, Tayab Ali, who represents the group stated:

Under Facebook’s own policy our clients are defined as ‘human rights defenders’ because they are raising human rights concerns about the treatment of Palestinians and the long standing Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is clear why the Israeli authorities want to interfere with our clients’ work in bringing human rights violations to the attention of the world. Facebook cannot allow itself to be used to silence the voices of journalists and commentators raising human rights concerns, particularly during the current questionable military attacks on Palestinian civilians.

The complaint asks Facebook to review its decision making process and explain why the accounts were closed, suspended or posts taken down, and whether in doing so an algorithm or human discretion was used.

Sada Social intends to escalate the complaint to Facebook’s oversight board and the United Nations Special Rapporteur if the decisions are not properly reviewed or explained.

Sada Social and the group are represented by Bindmans Partner Tayab Ali, solicitor Ella Jefferson and Counsel Julianne Morrison of Monckton Chambers.

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