Facebook employees accuse company of bias against Palestine

Facebook engineers accuse firm of bias against Palestinians
3 min read
28 May, 2021
Some 30 employees have filed an internal appeal to restore content on Facebook and Instagram, which they believe was improperly blocked or removed.
Palestine activists have Facebook of removing content posted to the platform [Getty]

A group of at least 30 Facebook employees has accused the social media giant of bias against Palestinians, amid soaring allegations of censorship of Arabic content during Israel’s recent assault on Gaza.

The workers filed an internal appeal to restore content on Facebook and Instagram, which they believe was improperly blocked or removed.

The group of software engineers put the company’s algorithm to the test and found it skewed in favour of Israel, Buzzfeed reported.

As an experiment, an Egyptian employee posted content from Gaza Now, a verified news outlet with nearly 4 million followers, to Facebook. The platform returned pop-up messages stating: “You may want to review غزة الآن - Gaza Now to see the types of content it usually shares."

"I tried liking as many Israeli news pages as possible, and not a single time have I received a similar message," the engineer wrote in a post. "Are all of these incidents result[ing] from a model bias?"

The post prompted an outpour of comments from other colleagues, one of whom asked why an Instagram post from American actor Mark Ruffalo about Palestinian displacement had received a content warning.

Ads from Muslim organisations raising funds during Ramadan were also suspended by Facebook’s artificial intelligence and human moderators.

“The next mistake will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and we could see our communities migrating to other platforms,” another Facebook employee wrote, in reference to the growing resentment among Arab and Muslim users.

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While some accuse Facebook of selectively enforcing its moderation policies, others believe it is over-enforcing them.

Earlier this month, Instagram mistakenly banned content about the Al-Aqsa Mosque because the platform associated its name with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a coalition of Palestinian armed groups in the West Bank.

However, episodes like the blocking of Gaza-based journalists from WhatsApp – including Al Jazeera’s chief correspondent Wael al-Dahdouh and reporter Hisham Zaqqout – have not been explained by the company.

“It truly feels like an uphill battle trying to get the company at large to acknowledge and put in real effort instead of empty platitudes into addressing the real grievances of Arab and Muslim communities,” one employee was quoted by Buzzfeed as saying in an internal forum.

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The Facebook and Instagram apps have been recently flooded with negative ratings on the Apple and Google mobile application stores.

Many users have shared snapshots of posts which were removed for containing pro-Palestine content, specifically those related to the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area of east Jerusalem.

Palestinian activist Muna Elkurd had her Instagram account suspended and blamed it on censorship of pro-Palestine content. A few days later The New Arab contacted Instagram, and a representative said that "Muna Elkurd’s account was removed in error and has been restored".