Facebook should have Palestine-Israel bias review: board

Facebook should have independent Palestine-Israel bias review, board says
3 min read
15 September, 2021
The social networking giant refused to tell the Oversight Board if Tel Aviv unofficially approached it to take down content about the escalation of Palestine-Israel violence in April and May.
Facebook's Oversight Board had been reviewing the Palestine-Israel case [Getty-file photo]

Accusations of bias in administering content about Palestine and Israel should be independently looked into, the body which oversees certain significant Facebook content administration decisions said on Tuesday.

This came as part of an Oversight Board case about the sharing of an Al Jazeera Arabic post, which pertained to May's deadly Gaza escalation, by an Egyptian account.

Facebook was asked if it was approached by Tel Aviv, officially or unofficially, to take down content about the escalation of violence that occurred in Palestine-Israel this April and May.

This escalation culminated in more than 260 Palestinians killed during a deadly 11-day Israeli bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip, while 13 in Israel died to rocket fire from Hamas and others.

The social networking giant refused to tell the Oversight Board if it was unofficially contacted, though it did confirm that it was not officially asked to take anything down.

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The body said it had received comments from the general public claiming Facebook "disproportionately removed or demoted content from Palestinian users and content in Arabic, especially in comparison to its treatment of posts threatening anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian violence within Israel."

It also said there were accusations the company is failing to do enough to take down posts encouraging "violence against Israeli civilians".

The independent, though company-created, watchdog called for these matters "to be looked at independently, in addition to urging "greater transparency with regard to [Facebook's] treatment of government requests."

It recommended a neutral party performs an in-depth investigation to see if Facebook is administering Arabic and Hebrew-language content "without bias".

Concerning the post that sparked the review itself, the watchdog's statement said Al Jazeera uploaded an image of two individuals in headbands bearing the logo of Hamas' military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades.

Alongside this, the outlet wrote text in Arabic seemingly about Hamas' 10 May ultimatum to Israel, which the Egyptian account, also writing in Arabic, added "Ooh". 

On 10 May, Gaza's ruling party demanded Tel Aviv pull out of occupied Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, which had been subject to many security violations, and Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood long subject to expulsion attempts.

Hamas' deadline was not met, and rockets were launched from Gaza, leading to the deadly escalation of violence.

Facebook said on Tuesday: "We welcome the Oversight Board's decision today on this case.

"Facebook previously reinstated this content as it did not violate our policies and was removed in error, so no further action will be taken on this content."

"After conducting a review of the recommendations provided by the board in addition to their decision, we will update this [statement]."