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Facebook Oversight Board’s Palestine decision: right direction, not enough

Read in Arabic / للقراءة بالعربية

The Facebook Oversight Board’s latest decision on the platforms’s unjustified removal of news content related to the recent bout of violence in Palestine and Israel is welcomed, but not enough.

“The details of the Oversight Board’s first MENA case affirms, once again, that Facebook’s arbitrary and non-transparent decisions are a feature, not a bug,” said Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy Manager at Access Now. “We support the Board’s decision on this occasion, but demand accountability, transparency, and assurance that blatant censorship and disrespect for a people, a language, and a complex social context will never put us in this situation again.”

On May 10, 2021, a Facebook user in Egypt shared a news item from news platform, Al Jazeera,  which contained a threat of violence by a Qassam Brigades spokesperson. Facebook initially removed the content after being reviewed by two content moderators for violating its Community Standard on Dangerous People and Organizations. Although Facebook restored the content, this is emblematic of Facebook’s systematic overenforcement of this Community Standard, particularly in relation to Arab and Muslim communities.

While this decision by the Oversight Board is a step in the right direction, it raises a number of red flags including how content is reviewed and rated and stresses the need for a thorough and transparent public audit of Facebook’s policies and actions regarding Palestine. 

“Voices from MENA matter. While we welcome this decision by Facebook’s Oversight Board, it speaks volumes on Facebook’s policies in the MENA region, and raises a number of serious red flags,” said Kassem Mnejja, MENA Campaigner at Access Now. “The Oversight Board’s decision amplifies the calls that civil society has been putting forward. Now, Facebook has to listen to the complaints and do the right thing.”

Earlier this year, Access Now along with 16 organizations and over 50 artists, journalists, and human rights defenders launched the #StopSilencingPalestine campaign to demand an end to Facebook’s censorship of Palestinian voices. The coalition reiterates the Board’s recommendations and call on Facebook once again to:

  • Conduct a full, independent, public audit of content moderation policies with respect to Palestine and a commitment to co-design policies and tools;
  • Provide complete transparency on requests — both legal and voluntary — submitted by the Israeli government and Cyber Unit;
  • Provide transparency with respect to where automation and machine learning algorithms are being used to moderate content; 
  • Publish any policies, guidelines, and procedures related to the classification and moderation of terrorism and extremism; and
  • Commit to a general co-design process with civil society to improve upon policies and processes involving Palestinian content.