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Al-Estiklal Newspaper

How the Israeli War on Gaza Put Social Media Platforms Under Pressure Again

2023/11/27 22:11:00 | Murad Jandali | Reports
Since the start of the Israeli aggression on Gaza, social networks have been accused of siding with “Israel.”
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Seven weeks have passed since the outbreak of war in Gaza, and social media platforms are still struggling to control content and contain users’ anger.

The American National Public Radio (NPR) pointed out that social media is flooded with violent videos and images of war and that platforms have been unable to curb violent content, even though their algorithms have previously been effective in deleting it in previous incidents.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, is facing criticism from users who accuse the company founded by Mark Zuckerberg of excessively censoring pro-Palestinian content.

For TikTok, the risks are real, as the app faces a possible ban in the United States amid suspicion that its algorithm is ultimately subject to oversight by the Chinese Communist Party.

The White House also condemned what it described as the abhorrent promotion of anti-Semitism by Elon Musk, owner of X (formerly Twitter), in response to a post by Musk in which he adopted what was considered an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

While supporters of the Palestinian cause classified this as bias by social media platforms against them, supporters of “Israel” saw the platforms’ censorship and deletion of posts as insufficient.

According to analysts, the widespread layoffs that affected employees in major tech companies, including ethics and safety teams in some social media companies, played a major role in leaving the platforms less prepared for an event such as the Israeli Occupation’s war on Gaza.

In recent years, reports have shown that Meta, along with other tech giants, has engaged in selective suppression of content related to the Palestinian cause, raising concerns about the influence of these platforms in letting the truth about the conflict reach the world.


Shadow Banning

Many social media users accused the world’s largest social media platforms — Facebook, Instagram, X, YouTube, and TikTok — of censoring accounts or actively reducing the reach of pro-Palestine content, known as shadow-banning, a practice that consists of not closing an account but reducing its visibility by limiting its appearance in news feeds or searches.

Users around the world have said posts containing hashtags like #FreePalestine and #IStandWithPalestine, as well as messages expressing support for civilian Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, are being hidden by the platforms.

Users were subjected to unprecedented repression on Meta platforms, specifically Instagram, which blocked live broadcasts, removed content, and blocked the view of user accounts.

It also banned certain hashtags, such as #alaqsaflood and #hamas, which sparked accusations of bias and manipulation of the standards governing community protection rules within cyberspace.

Before the beginning of the second week of the Israeli attack on Gaza, Meta announced, after receiving a reprimand from the European Union, the deletion of more than 795,000 posts in Arabic and Hebrew, describing them as disturbing or illegal in relation to the war.

This number represents about seven times the content that Meta removes daily at normal times compared to the previous two months.

In a statement, Meta said that “the post visibility issues impacting some Palestinian users were due to a global bug and that some Instagram hashtags were no longer searchable because a portion of the content using it violated Meta rules.

“Meta’s current moderation of Israel–Hamas war content is being led by a centralized group with expertise in Hebrew and Arabic,” the company said.

In 2021, Instagram imposed temporary censorship on posts related to al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem (al-Quds).

In the wake of Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip last year, Palestinian users who shared photos of the destruction on Instagram complained that their posts were removed for violating the Meta Community Standards.

In contrast, Ukrainian users were given unique permission to share similar images, which was justified on the grounds that they were newsworthy.

Last month, 48 organizations issued a statement urging tech companies to respect Palestinian digital rights during the ongoing war.

TikTok platform was not far from the crisis of content related to the war on Gaza, especially after a European warning to the company against allowing the publication of illegal content or false information.

The platform had announced that it had deleted more than 500,000 video clips and closed 8,000 live broadcasts related to the Israeli war on Gaza, days after the European Union’s warning.

According to observers, TikTok is somewhat similar in content standards to the Meta platforms, but during the ongoing conflict between “Israel” and the Palestinian factions, it activated these standards extensively on media and news pages, especially the large ones.

In the same context, dozens of Jewish celebrities on TikTok last week called on the platform’s executives to stop the wave of anti-Semitism on the platform, according to the New York Times.

In a recent meeting with TikTok executives, comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen accused the site of creating the biggest antisemitic movement since the Nazis.

In a recent blog post, TikTok said: “Our recommendation algorithm doesn’t ‘take sides’ and has rigorous measures in place to prevent manipulation.”

The social media company also said that from October 7 to November 17, it had removed more than 1.1 million videos in the conflict region for breaking its rules — including content promoting Hamas, hate speech, and misinformation.

Its community guidelines prohibit content that promotes Islamophobia or anti-Semitism, which TikTok says it takes action against.


Angry Reactions

Despite European warnings to tech companies of legal penalties if they do not delete pro-Hamas content and scenes of violence, X platform showed a clear discrepancy in dealing with Palestinian narratives of the war.

This led to X and its CEO, Elon Musk, being criticized amid warnings that his platform, and all other social media platforms, may face billions of dollars in fines if an investigation later determines that they violated content moderation laws in the EU.

According to observers, X benefited the most from these events, as it became the only platform where users publish their content without strict restrictions.

It placed an option on videos and photos that allows users to watch them or not, without making any decision about deleting or stopping accounts, as long as the content falls under the heading of freedom of opinion and expression.

However, Musk was the one who caused controversy after he expressed his agreement with a theory shared by an influencer in which he accused Jews of spreading hatred against the white race.

This was done through a tweet he posted on X in which he said: “I told the actual truth,” provoking angry reactions amid accusations of anti-Semitism.

Last week, Apple, Disney, Lionsgate Entertainment, Warner Group, Comcast, Discovery, and others joined International Business Machines (IBM) in temporarily suspending advertising on X after reports found that the company’s ads are placed next to anti-Semitic content, which puts X at risk of losing $75 million in advertising revenue by the end of this year.

A statement issued by it said: “IBM has zero tolerance for hate speech and discrimination, and we have immediately suspended all advertising on X while we investigate this completely unacceptable situation.”

Musk is considered one of the most influential figures in the world, and it appears from his behavior on X that he does not care about advertisers leaving the social network, which he acquired for $44 billion last year.

Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, accused Musk of repugnant promotion of anti-Semitism, the New York Times reported.

“It is unacceptable to repeat such a heinous lie,” Bates said, while Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media monitoring non-profit organization, warned major companies that their ads on X were accompanied by anti-Semitic content.

The EU said it would suspend advertising on X due to the rise in false information and hate speech.

On the other hand, on November 20, X filed a lawsuit against the Media Matters organization, stating that it had defamed the platform in a report that stated that ads for major brands appeared next to posts promoting Nazism.

It also said in a statement in response to the previous accusations that it had taken action against more than 320,000 posts due to hate speech, removed more than 3,000 accounts, and had intervened in more than 25,000 posts due to content that had been monitored for tampering.


Accusations and Punishment

Just days after Elon Musk was accused of supporting anti-Semitic posts, the White House joined Threads platform, affiliated with Meta, a competitor to X owned by the US billionaire.

The White House launched its official account on Threads, in addition to official accounts for President Joe Biden, the First Lady, and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband.

A spokesman for Biden’s re-election campaign told CNN that the president and his vice president will also launch two personal accounts on Threads.

White House spokeswoman Robyn Patterson said that the reason for this step is that the Biden administration is committed to communicating with people wherever they are.

The White House’s decision to join Threads, which is controlled by Mark Zuckerberg, reinforces the platform’s importance.

This also comes at a time when famous public figures announced that they would completely transfer their personal accounts from X to Threads, saying that Musk’s behavior was the motivation behind this move.

As a result of the losses that Musk and his platform suffered during the recent period, the US billionaire decided to appease those who were angry with him and accused him of promoting anti-Semitism.

On November 21, it was announced that X Corp. would donate all advertising and subscription revenues related to the war on the Gaza Strip to hospitals in “Israel” and the Red Cross or Red Crescent in Gaza, which sparked mixed reactions on social media.

Musk did not reveal the estimated amount that would be donated, nor did he understand what was meant by war-related ads and subscriptions. Knowing that annual advertising revenues were $5 billion before Musk bought Twitter.

But these returns recently declined by about 55% over the past year, amid expectations that this decline will continue in the future, according to TechCrunch, a technology website.

As for the subscriptions on the platform that are paid monthly for the X Premium service, for example, the platform did not earn more than $11 million from it during the first three months of its launch.

In turn, Palestinian activist Nawras Ibrahim explained in a statement to Al-Estiklal that there is still widespread uncertainty regarding what is published on social media platforms regarding the Gaza war, especially since social media platforms have become a major and important role in directing public opinion and influencing policymaking decisions globally.

He pointed out that the campaign against Elon Musk recently represents the greatest manifestation of the bias and confiscation of freedom of opinion and expression that Western countries praise, but when it comes to their interests, all of these values become meaningless, especially since “Israel” is one of the West’s most important strategic interests.




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elon musk mark zuckerberg meta palestine social media platforms the israeli occupation tiktok war on gaza