Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during a hearing

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks during a hearing on September 28, 2021.

(Photo: Patrick Semansky/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Warren Demands Facebook-Instagram Explain Censorship of Pro-Palestinian Content

"It is more important than ever that social media platforms do not censor truthful and legitimate content, particularly as people around the world turn to online communities to share and find information."

Progressive U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Thursday sent a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding answers to questions about the Facebook and Instagram parent company's alleged suppression of pro-Palestinian content during the ongoing Israeli obliteration of Gaza.

"Over 90 human rights and civil society organizations have raised alarm about Meta's reported suppression, filtering, and mistranslation of Palestine-related content over the past two months, calling on the company to provide additional transparency as to content moderation and to address discriminatory algorithmic design," Warren (D-Mass.) wrote.

The senator is seeking clarification regarding documented occurrences on Facebook and Instagram of censorship of pro-Palestinian content, labeling the Palestinian flag as "potentially offensive," and translating the words "Palestinian" and "Alhamdulilah"—Arabic for "praise be to God"—as "Palestinian terrorist."

"Even more concerning, Meta reportedly manipulated its content filters to apply stricter standards to content generated in Palestine compared to the standards in place in the rest of the region and the world," Warren noted.

The senator wrote:

Meta generally hides comments designated as hateful only when its content moderation systems are 80% certain that they violate the platform's policies. The Wall Street Journal reported that after Hamas' October 7 attacks, Meta tightened those filters, "as part of 'temporary risk response measures'—emergency calming efforts of the sort that Meta has previously deployed in wars, potential genocides, and the Jan. 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol riot—Meta cut that threshold in half over a swath of the Middle East, hiding any comment deemed 40% likely to be inflammatory." Meta also changed the default settings on Facebook to limit who could comment on content created "in the region." Soon thereafter, however, Meta lowered the bar further for Palestine only, hiding comments from users in the occupied Palestinian territories if its automated system judged there was at least a 25% chance they violated Meta's rules.

"Unsurprisingly given these changes, Instagram users have reported numerous instances of account suspensions and content suppression linked to communications regarding Palestine," Warren said. "The social media nonprofit 7amleh, also known as the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, documented more than 200 cases of alleged censorship by Meta in the three weeks following Hamas' October 7 attack. Instagram users reported they were restricted from posting or livestreaming and had their content marked as 'sensitive.'"

"Other users posted screenshots showing their Stories about Palestine received significantly fewer views than other Stories posted on the same day, suggesting that Instagram may be shadowbanning material—that is, limiting the visibility of users posts without notifying them," she added. "Multiple journalists have also reported issues with their accounts, including reports of flagging Arabic posts but not identical English or Hebrew versions."

As Warren noted in her letter, "these problems are not new for Meta." Past probes by Human Rights Watch, The New York Times, and others have exposed Meta's suppression of pro-Palestinian posts and revelations of Israeli human rights abuses, as well as the company's over-enforcement of Arabic language content.

Meanwhile, "Meta's content moderation systems and practices have also exacerbated violence and failed to combat hate speech," Warren asserted. "Facebook... recently approved paid advertisements by a right-wing Israeli group calling for the assassination of a pro-Palestine activist, and subsequent test ads submitted by 7amleh calling for the murder of Palestinian civilians."

"Amidst the horrific Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, a humanitarian catastrophe including the deaths of thousands of civilians in Gaza, and the killing of dozens of journalists, it is more important than ever that social media platforms do not censor truthful and legitimate content," she added, "particularly as people around the world turn to online communities to share and find information about developments in the region."

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