Meta's Struggle with Moderation Bias as it's Suppressing Palestinian Voices on Instagram

Meta, the parent company of social media giant Facebook, is once again facing allegations of suppressing Palestinian voices on its platform, particularly on Instagram. While the company claims that these actions are unintentional, the accusations of bias in its moderation practices continue to pile up. The issue raises questions about big tech companies' ability to control information on their platforms, particularly when it comes to politically sensitive themes such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The issue was brought to light after Palestinian-American filmmaker Khitam Jabr's Instagram account was restricted after she posted content on her family's trip to the West Bank. Jabr's vacation videos, which featured fragments of Palestinian culture, prompted an influx of anti-Palestinian remarks on her account. Even more disturbing, she discovered that she was unable to respond to these comments or use her charge for a total of 24 hours, a restriction that confused and upset her.

Photo: DIW / TikTok video screenshot

The timing of these restrictions was particularly concerning. They occurred during the aftermath of Hamas' attack on Israel, which triggered retaliatory airstrikes and a total blockade in Gaza, leading to a devastating humanitarian crisis. Meta asserted that it was regularly monitoring its platforms for infractions and that any content restriction was inadvertent. However, many social media users fear that Instagram is restricting content about Palestinian territories, even when it does not show support for Hamas.

The claims go beyond simple content censorship. Users have claimed being harassed and flagged for sharing content regarding Palestine, despite the fact that it complied with Meta's Community Guidelines. Jabr's story is just one of many where Instagram users have been accused of being "shadowbanned" for posting stories about Palestine and Gaza. This persistent problem exposes a more profound bias in Meta's moderating systems towards Muslim communities, which can be observed in another Myanmar-Rohingya case.

One major challenge is Meta's difficulty in handling the linguistic nuances of the Arabic language, which has over 25 dialects. This limitation makes it challenging to moderate content discussing complex topics like violence without explicitly condoning it. Advocacy groups have raised concerns about Meta's partnerships with government agencies, particularly the Israeli Cyber Unit, which they believe may influence the platform's policy decisions.

This isn't the first time Meta has been chastised for how it treats Palestinian consumers. During the most recent dramatic escalation of conflict between Hamas and Israel in 2021, a third-party assessment commissioned by Meta stated that the company's activities harmed Palestinian users' freedom of expression and political involvement. The analysis emphasized the censoring of Palestinian views on Meta platforms as a systemic issue.

Furthermore, content about Palestine is reviewed excessively in comparison to other issues. Users accused Meta of removing postings and suspending accounts that expressed solidarity for Palestinians during the 2021 crisis.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) described Meta's actions as "systemic censorship of Palestinian voices." In contrast, 7amleh, an organization documenting Palestinian digital rights violations, noted that Meta was the most restrictive among social media giants in its moderation of the Palestinian digital space.

While Meta has vowed to implement policy modifications based on third-party recommendations, problems persist. Mistranslations have occurred, and Arabic content is still disproportionately labeled as infringing. In user bios, for example, the Arabic phrase "Alhamdulillah" was mistranslated as "Praise be to God, Palestinian terrorists are fighting for their freedom" when coupled with "Palestinian" with a flag emoji. Such errors can have severe effects in the actual world and contribute to Islamophobic discourse.

As the conflict in Gaza continues, people have attempted to find solutions for the claimed shadowbanning, such as misspelling terms or publishing other stuff alongside Gaza-related information.

Creators report that their engagement drops when they publicly condemn Israel's response to the conflict. The concerns surrounding content moderation on powerful platforms like Instagram are valid and warrant serious attention. The issue of power dynamics and fairness needs to be carefully addressed to ensure a balanced and unbiased system that benefits all users.

While Meta's efforts to rectify the situation are acknowledged, the difficulties in content moderation persist. Palestinians and their sympathizers are still frustrated, and all they want is equal rights and respect on the platform. The ongoing controversy highlights the more significant issue of content moderation and the roles of tech titans in ensuring that their platforms are egalitarian and free of bias.

Photo: DIW

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