Outside of Facebook’s office at 770 Broadway in New York on Friday afternoon, activists protested Facebook’s recent partnernership with the Israeli government to crack down on “incitements to violence.”
Despite the constant heavy rain, nearly two dozen protesters showed up to the event, organized by the Samidoun Palestinian Political Prisoner Solidarity Network and NYC Students for Justice in Palestine.
“We’re here today in solidarity with Palestinians who have been protesting Israel’s new agreement with Facebook, as well as its deletion of Palestinian content, which has been an ongoing problem for years,” Joe Catron, one of the event’s organizers, told me.
Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that Facebook and the Israeli government have teamed up to “tackle incitement” online “as the government pushes ahead with legislative steps meant to force social networks to rein in content that Israel says incites violence.”
As Alex Kane reported in The Intercept in June, Israel has been aggressively monitoring the content of Facebook posts by Palestinians. Human rights groups have documented that as many as 400 Palestinians have been arrested in the past year for the content of their social media posts. “This is a brutally effective form of censorship in the Middle East, where online communication is a popular organizing tool that’s generally seen as independent of government interference,” a Huffington Post reporter wrote.
The AP report prompted journalist Glenn Greenwald to ask, “Do you trust Facebook — or the Israeli government — to assess when a Palestinian’s post against Israeli occupation and aggression passes over into censorship-worthy ‘hate speech’ or ‘incitement’?” He also pointed out that “it’s actually very common for Israelis to use Facebook to urge violence against Palestinians“:
In 2014, thousands of Israelis used Facebook to post messages “calling for the murder of Palestinians.” When an IDF occupying soldier was arrested for shooting and killing a wounded Palestinian point blank in the head last year, IDF soldiers used Facebook to praise the killing and justify that violence, with online Israeli mobs gathering in support.
According to Israel’s Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked – who, ironically enough in a now-deleted genocidal Facebook post, called for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes” a day before six Israelis kidnapped and burned alive Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khudai – Facebook has granted 95 percent of Israel’s 158 requests to remove content in the last four months.
More than a week after the AP report, the Electronic Intifada reported that Facebook, undoubtedly a hugely influential force in journalism, had deleted the accounts of editors at two prominent Palestinian publications. “We believe this is the result of the agreement between Israel and Facebook. It is very strange that Facebook would take part in such an agreement, given that it is supposed to be a platform for free expression and journalism,” one of the newspapers said. The next day, Facebook admitted the editors’ accounts were deleted in error.
“Facebook is a private company, with a legal obligation to maximize profit, and so it will interpret very slippery concepts such as ‘hate speech’ and ‘inciting violence’ to please those who wield the greatest power,” Greenwald wrote.
The protest outside Facebook’s office lasted from 4 p.m. to about 6:30 p.m.
See my coverage of the protest on Periscope here.