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Tech giants work hand in hand with Israel to muzzle Palestinian voices

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Explosives experts of the Palestinian resistance group, Hamas, lay out unexploded projectiles from the aftermath of the May 2021 conflict with Israel, at a local police precinct in Gaza City on June 5, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Tech giants, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, have been working hand in hand with the Israeli regime to censor Palestinians trying to expose the regime’s atrocities against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to censor use of the popular video-sharing app TikTok in the occupied territories last month, amid a devastating onslaught against the Gaza Strip that killed nearly 260 Palestinians and injured many more.

Netanyahu tried to censor TikTok amid international condemnations directed at the Israeli regime over its attempts to control social media content during the 11-day aggression on Gaza.

Israeli minister for military affairs Benny Gantz lobbied top officials at Facebook and TikTok to remove contents critical of the regime under the pretext of inciting violence and terrorism.

Gantz's office said in a statement last month that the executives of the social media firms vowed to “quickly and effectively” address the issue.

According to Gaza's Health Ministry, at least 256 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli offensive, including 66 children, and nearly 2,000 were wounded.

The war between Israel and Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza began after the regime in Tel Aviv escalated its violent measures against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including at al-Aqsa mosque compound and also the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where Israeli forces stepped up moves to force out Palestinian families from their homes and replace them with Israeli settlers.

As millions of posts were published through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, using hashtags such as #SaveGaza and #SaveSheikhJarrah, many users reported that their posts were blocked, hidden or deleted.

“There was a massive crackdown by Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and other social media companies on posts relating to Sheikh Jarrah,” Nadim Nashif, the director of 7amleh, a Palestinian digital rights group, said at the time.

Nashif said there is close cooperation between social media companies and Israel, which tries to silence the voices speaking out against the Israeli occupation.

“Obviously, this has harmed freedom of expression and comes at a crucial time of various violations carried out by the Israeli government,” he added.

Last week, Facebook employees circulated an internal petition calling on the tech company to investigate content moderation systems that censored Palestinian voices.

They wrote in the petition that Facebook’s users feel that the social media giant is falling short on its promise to protect open expression around the situation in Palestine.

“We believe Facebook can and should do more to understand our users and work on rebuilding their trust,” they said, calling on Facebook’s oversight board to review a post by Netanyahu, in which he called Palestinian civilians terrorists.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, finally announced changes to its algorithm on Sunday, weeks after it was widely criticized by users who said pro-Palestinian content was not viewable for users during the course of Israeli airstrikes on Gazans.

Meanwhile, a legal rights group has said that a shadowy Israeli “cyber unit,” which works hand in hand with Facebook and Twitter, had been given a “blank check” to silence online dissent.

“Israel’s Cyber Unit uses an ‘alternative enforcement’ mechanism to essentially censor social media platforms and muzzle users: it flags and submits social media posts – without legal proceedings and often without even the knowledge of the individual user – to social media giants and requests their removal,” the group, Adalah, said in a statement last month.

It said the move is aimed at clamping down on social media dissent, and frequently results in the suspension or removal of users.

According to Adalah, the censorship is conducted in collaboration and coordination with social media outlets, including US-based giants Facebook and Twitter.

“Adalah attorneys Fady Khoury and Rabea Eghbariah had filed the petition against the Cyber Unit to the Israeli Supreme Court on 26 November 2019. They stressed that the Cyber Unit’s ‘alternative enforcement’ mechanism violates the constitutional rights of freedom of expression and due process, and that the unit is operating without any legal authority,” the group noted.

It explained that Israeli Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, in his final ruling, granted unchecked and unauthorized power to Israel, allowing it to govern online speech by using informal channels with social media corporations.

“The court essentially privatized the judicial process, allowing private corporations to decide upon censorship of social media content based on ostensibly unbinding requests from Israeli ... authorities,” Adalah added.

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