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Digital Watchdog Says Facebook Behind 'Intentional Decrease' in Traffic to Pro-Palestinian Pages

Sada Social Center says visits to some pages have plummeted by as much as 80%. 

A Palestinian man using Facebook. (Photo: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

A Palestinian man looks at the Facebook page of Avichay Adraee, the spokesman of the Israeli Army to the Arabic media, after hackers replaced his cover photo with that of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigade during the "#Op_Israel" campaign launched by the activist group Anonymous, in Gaza City on April 7, 2013. (Photo: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

Facebook has allegedly been throttling posts concerning Israeli human rights crimes and abuses in occupied Palestine, resulting in an "intentional decrease" in traffic by as much as 80%, an online watchdog group said on Wednesday. 

Sada Social Center, a non-government organization that monitors the treatment of Palestinian-focused content on the web, said it has recently received "many complaints from managers of Palestinian and Arab pages on Facebook regarding a sharp drop" of "50% of the general average, and in some cases... more than 80%" in the number of users viewing their posts. 

The group also said that the Arabic-language pages have also recently "noticed a marked increase in receiving reports and warning messages from Facebook regarding publications related to the Palestinian cause, and these pages actively participated in covering the matter of Arab normalization with the Israeli occupation."

Palestinians have long complained that Facebook and other social media platforms have targeted their accounts, often deleting them without warning or explanation. According to Middle East Eye:

Facebook has previously cooperated with the Israeli government to scrutinise Palestinian content on its platform. In October 2016, an Israeli minister revealed that Facebook complied with around 95% of requests submitted by the Israeli government to delete the accounts of Palestinian civilians, almost 88% of whom consume their news and get their information from social media platforms like Facebook.

In October, Sada Social—citing 139 violations of what it said were international law and basic human rights by Facebook—helped launch the #FBBlocksPalestine campaign to broaden awareness of what it called "the threat posed by Facebook against Palestinian content... as well... the double standard policy of Facebook management in dealing with Israeli and Palestinian incitement on its site." 

That double standard was evident when Facebook suspended the account of Fatah, the ruling Palestinian party in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in February 2017 after it posted a photo of the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat holding a rifle. A cursory glance at the Facebook page of the Israel Defense Forces, in contrast, reveals many photos of its troops holding guns.

Also in October, Sada Social reported that Twitter had shut down dozens of Palestinian and sympathetic accounts one day after the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a report on what it said were fake online profiles trying to delegitimize Israel. 

The problem goes beyond mere social censorship. In recent years, Israel's Cyber Unit has been cracking down on what it calls "incitement" by arresting Palestinians over their social media posts. In 2018, the Palestinian Prisoners' Centre reported that more than 500 people, including children, had been taken into custody for their posts. 

Sada Social is calling on Facebook to "clarify its reason" for throttling pro-Palestinian posts, which it called a "clear infringement and manipulation" of users' rights. The group also urged "international human rights bodies to follow up [on] the case and the flagrant infringement it reflects on freedom of opinion and expression."

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