Genocidal algorithms

Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian , Sunday 12 Nov 2023

Like many others around the world, Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian has been facing Meta censorship over Palestine

Genocidal algorithms


Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, has been censoring posts exposing the genocide in Gaza and expressing solidarity with Palestinians, a fact that has prompted Human Rights Watch (HRW) that urged people to appeal. According to the Arabic saying: “If you have angered your enemy you must be right,” but Arabs had not thought of themselves as Meta’s enemies. Yet the huge corporation has been known to adopt similar practices in the past. Just before the Gaza war, the ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Nagorno Karabakh was similarly covered up.

Since the beginning of the Gaza crisis people had been complaining of the reduced reach of their stories long before I started experiencing this myself, after a Zionist account began to track my stories; as a test I stopped sharing stories about Palestine, and views were immediately back to normal as well as hundreds of followers were restored.

I watched with my own eyes while a story posted by my son, featuring a quote by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, disappeared: “Whoever wants to try it, let him, but the region will face unimaginable instability. No one is beyond our power. We will reserve the right to respond at the right time in the appropriate way. Egypt’s national security is a red line.”

After people started to speak out, Human Rights Watch called on social media users to report censorship amid the Gaza war. “We are documenting censorship and suppression of content related to Israel and Palestine on social media (in particular Instagram and Facebook),” the organisation stated in an Instagram post last week, urging people to report their cases to a shared email address. As per the organisation, reports should include screenshots of the original content, the platform where it was shared, the country it was posted from, the form of censorship experienced (removal, shadow ban or reprisal), any notification from the platform, prior engagement figures, a URL of the affected account, appeals made to the platform and any relevant information.

Earlier, Meta apologised for inserting the word “terrorist” into some accounts that mention “Palestine” in English on their profile or use the Palestinain flag as an emoji or the word “Alhamdulillah” in Arabic, claiming it was a machine-translation issue. So when requesting translation for an Arabic phrase you get the following: “Praise be to God, Palestinian terrorists are fighting for their freedom.”

“We fixed a problem that briefly caused inappropriate Arabic translation in some of our products. We sincerely apologise that this happened,” a spokesperson for Meta told Guardian Australia, adding that the issue had been fixed.

As for the decrease in stories’ and posts’ reach, the company claimed there had been a bug that meant reels and posts that had been re-shared weren’t showing up in people’s Instagram stories, and “this was not limited to posts about Gaza and Israel,” basically denying any censorship of pro-Palestine voices.

Influencer Roleen Al-Qassim in one of her daily lives mentioned that she experienced restrictions on Instagram when she shared pro-Palestine content: “You cannot comment, you cannot ‘like.’”

The account @eye.on.palestine went dark last week with its backup accounts on Instagram, Facebook and Threads. “Sorry, this page isn’t available” was the message you received when looking for it. When followers of the page made posts on platforms like X, previously known as Twitter, interpreting the disappearance as anti-Palestinian censorship, Meta spokesman said that its security staff had detected a possible hacking attempt of pro-Palestinian accounts and so decided to lock them.

After communicating with Meta all EyeonPalestine pages returned within a couple of days. The accounts focus on posting disturbing media from Gaza, much of which had been removed before the ban.

Pascale Ghazaleh, professor of history at the American University in Cairo (AUC), made a post on her Instagram account criticising Zionism and the censorship Meta users are facing. “I did not post photos from Gaza, I posted my personal photo with a caption expressing my views. After a week the post was removed and I got a notice that this happened due to hate speech. I took a screenshot of Meta’s warning note and posted it with my comments. That too was removed,” Ghazaleh told Al-Ahram Weekly, who was given the option of appealing within 79 days.

Ghazaleh’s appeal, posted again on her account for the record, reads, “I posted content critical of Zionism. Zionism is not like race or sexual orientation in that it is an ideology that people choose to espouse. Criticising is my right. If I had posted content critical of other forms of racism (like Nazism), would my criticism have been flagged as ‘hate speech’? This decision shows meta’s bias in favour of Israel a bias damaging to meta and one that I and millions of other users find offensive.” Waiting for Meta’s feedback to her appeal, she concluded: “So you choose to disregard the existence of an entire people at the very moment when they are victims of ethnic cleansing and other war crimes. This is truly deplorable and disturbing.”

Because of the disturbing news and images that anger Ghazaleh on Instagram, and to avoid anxiety, she decided to go into other websites and make her voice heard by pointing out disinformation.

Ashraf Ibrahim, a YouTuber who calls himself @MokhbirEqtisadi explained to his followers on X last week that he was facing major restrictions on the content he presents on his channel. Most of Ibrahim’s content is economic: the negative impact of the war on Gaza on Israel’s economy, for example. Episodes of his programme are no longer seen by his followers, and he is facing restrictions on various social media platforms. “We ask you to share the last episode with your friends, acquaintances and non-Arabs, as YouTube marked it as ‘limited monetisation.’” Ibrahim’s Tik-Tok account was banned too, “permanently” as appeared to its followers, but was then restored after communicating with the platform’s technical support team.

Israel’s cutting off telecommunication is part of a devastating massacre carried out away from media scrutiny. This is a different catastrophe one might think of putting into words in future writings.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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