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Facebook violated rights of Palestinian users, report finds | Business News

Actions by Facebook and its parent Meta during last year’s Gaza war violated Palestinian users’ rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, political participation and non-discrimination, a report by the social media firm found.

Thursday’s report by independent consulting firm Business for Social Responsibility confirmed long-standing criticism of Mater’s policies and their uneven application as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: It found the company over-enforced rules for Arabic content over those applied in Hebrew.

It did not, however, find intentional bias, either by the company as a whole or among individual employees. The report’s authors said they found “no evidence of ethnic, racial, national, or religious animosity in the ruling party” and noted that Meta “has employees representing diverse viewpoints, nationalities, races, ethnicities, and religions relevant to this conflict.”

Rather, it found numerous examples of unwarranted bias that harmed the rights of Palestinian and Arabic-speaking users.

In response, Meta said it plans to implement some of the report’s recommendations, including improving Hebrew-language “categorization,” which uses artificial intelligence to automatically remove infringing posts.

“There are no quick, overnight fixes for many of these recommendations, as the BSR makes clear,” the agency, based in Menlo Park, California, said in a blog post Thursday. “While we have already made significant changes as a result of this exercise, this process will take time — including time to understand how some of these recommendations can best be addressed and whether they are technically feasible.

Meta, the report confirmed, also made serious errors in implementation. For example, Instagram briefly banned the #alAqsa hashtag last May due to the Gaza war, a reference to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, a flashpoint in the conflict.

Meta, which owns Instagram, later apologized, explaining that its algorithms had mistaken Islam’s third-holiest site for the militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed wing of the secular Fatah party.

The report echoes issues raised in internal documents by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, which show the company’s problems are systemic and long known to the meta.

A key failing is the lack of moderators in languages ​​other than English, with Arabic among the most common languages ​​on the Mater platform.

For users in Gaza, Syria and other Middle Eastern regions, the issues raised in the report are nothing new.

Israeli security agencies and watchdogs, for example, have monitored Facebook and bombarded it with thousands of orders to remove Palestinian accounts and posts as they try to quell incitement.

“They flood our system, completely overwhelm it,” Ashraf Zeitoun, Facebook’s former head of policy for the Middle East and North Africa region, who left in 2017, told The Associated Press last year. “It forces the system to err on Israel’s side.”

Israel experienced a sharp spasm of violence in May 2021 – weeks of tension in East Jerusalem escalated into an 11-day war with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. The violence spilled over into Israel itself, with the country experiencing its worst sectarian violence between Jewish and Arab citizens in years.

In an interview this week, Israel’s national police chief, Kobi Shabtai, told the Yediot Ahronat daily that he believes social media fuels sectarian fighting. He called for a shutdown of social media should similar violence happen again, and said he had suggested blocking social media last year to reduce fires.

“I’m talking about shutting down the networks completely, calming the situation on the ground and reactivating them when it calms down,” he says. “We are a democratic country, but there is a limit.”

The comments caused an uproar and the police issued a clarification saying its proposal was only for extreme cases. Omar Barlev, the cabinet minister overseeing the police, also said Shabtai had no authority to impose such restrictions.

Associated Press reporter Joseph Federman contributed from Jerusalem.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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