An Al-Jazeera investigative program has exposed the Israeli government’s influence and persuasion over Facebook censorship policies concerning the illegal occupation of Palestine and the treatment and crimes against Palestinians.
Facebook deleted the personal account of Tamer Almisshal, a Palestinian journalist and the presenter of the Al-Jazeera program, without warning not long after the program aired.
The program “What is Hidden is Greater” exposed a problematic relationship between the Israeli government and the social media network when it created separate Facebook accounts to share headlines concerning Israel and Palestine. One of the accounts only used Arabic, while the other only posted in Hebrew. Facebook’s treatment of the posts was then closely monitored by the program.
On Friday, September 8, an episode entitled “Closed Space” aired, documenting how Facebook responded differently to the separate accounts.
A team posted photos and news on the Arabic account of Palestinians who had been killed by Israeli occupation forces during a raid in Nablus, a Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank. Facebook removed the content immediately and the account was warned it would be blocked permanently.
The same headlines were simultaneously posted by Al-Jazeera on the Hebrew page with more graphic images. The posts were not deleted and Facebook gave no warnings.
“What is Hidden is Greater” reported that the Israeli government has structured a powerful system of influence and pressure on Meta’s management, which operates the Facebook platform and Instagram.
According to Ashraf Zeitoun, the former director of Middle East and North Africa policy for Facebook, the Israeli government has built a “reporting army” that notifies Facebook of posts it wants to be removed. Zeitoun shared how one U.S. pro-Israel Jewish organization created an app that allows subscribers to report anti-Israel content.
According to Eric Barbing, the former director of the Israeli government’s Cyber Unit, Israel officially asks Facebook to censor content considered “hateful” and “anti-Semitic.” The censorship includes pictures of Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation forces. Barbing explained that most of the content violating Israeli expectations is quickly removed.
Israel also greatly influences the rules governing Facebook’s algorithms, determining the content each user sees and what goes viral.
According to the Palestine Chronicle, its Facebook posts are regularly censored and a shadow ban has been imposed on its pages.
The move prevents new followers from finding the pages and reduces the content views by more than 95 percent.
The Al-Jazeera program also discovered that hundreds of Facebook employees have Israeli citizenship, and several have previous ties to the occupation army and government.
“Among the most influential Israeli employees are the head of Meta’s Instagram, Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s director of financial revenue, David Fischer, and Amy Palmor, a former director of Israel’s Ministry of Justice,” the program reported. “Palmor is responsible for the cyber unit fighting Palestinian content and was appointed to Facebook’s oversight board.”
According to a 2020 study by MintPress, “hundreds of former agents of the notorious Israeli spying organization, Unit 8200, have attained positions of influence in many of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon.”
I wasn’t surprised at this information as I began researching and putting notes and an outline together for this article. I have been covering the occupied West Bank as a journalist since the Unity Intifada in May 2021. It was only a matter of time before someone invested the time and resources to discover these truths.
While I have never experienced the shadow banning and degree of censorship the Palestine Chronicle has, I’ve had articles removed from my timeline, images and other posts blocked, and I am constantly dealing with some kind of restriction for sharing the truth about Israeli occupation forces in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.
I’ve learned a lot in the past 12 months about posting pro-Palestinian content, especially since launching the Azarias Project, a 501c3 nonprofit organization publishing the truth from Gaza and the West Bank you won’t find through mainstream media.
For starters, vocabulary matters when posting about the Israeli government. It needs to be remembered that Zionism is not part of the Jewish religion. The two are entirely separate.
Also, being an Israeli does not make someone a Jew. This is all the more reason to put more thought into the vocabulary used for a post.
The images used also determine how much attention a post receives from Facebook. Using a picture of Israeli occupation forces or an official can get our point across just as easily as a graphic image showing the result of violence when the content is properly worded.
I have found that the first nine words of a post are scanned the most. By making a lengthier post and waiting until the second or third sentence to get into the heart of the issue, we give ourselves a better chance of not being censored and having the post removed.
I am not saying we need to refrain from sharing the truth about what is happening or try to disguise the facts. Instead, with a little more care about what we are doing, Facebook can be a much more effective tool for exposing the truth.