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Social networks accused of censoring Palestinian content



<b>Social</b> networks accused of censoring Palestinian content thumbnail

The decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine has flared up in recent weeks, following the forced eviction of Palestinians who live in Jerusalem on land claimed by Israel and attacks on Muslims near the Al-Aqsa mosque toward the end of the holy month of Ramadan. As Palestinians and their supporters have shared images and posts about the violence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, some have noticed their content suddenly disappear, or seen their posts flagged for breaches of the platforms’ terms of use when no such breach had occurred. In some cases, their accounts have been suspended; Twitter restricted the account of Palestinian-American writer Mariam Barghouti, who had been posting photos and videos of the violence in Jerusalem, then later restored Barghouti’s account and apologized for the suspension, saying it was done by mistake.

Some of those who have been covering such issues for years don’t think these kinds of things are a mistake; rather, they believe social networks are deliberately censoring Palestinian content. In a recent panel discussion on Al Jazeera’s show The Stream, Marwa Fatafta, of the human-rights advocacy group Access Now, said this is not a new problem, and has recently gotten worse. “Activists and journalists and users of social media have been decrying this kind of censorship for years,” she said. “But I’ve been writing about this topic for a long time, and I have not seen anything of this scale. It’s so brazen and so incredible, it’s beyond censorship—it’s digital repression. They are actively suppressing the narrative of Palestinians or those who are documenting these war crimes.”

On Monday, Access Now did a Twitter thread about censorship involving Palestinian content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. The group said it has received “hundreds of reports that social platforms are suppressing Palestinian protest hashtags, blocking livestreams, and removing posts and accounts.” Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh, who runs a magazine for millennials called Muslim, says he has documented 12,000 acts of censorship on Instagram alone in the past several weeks.

A group called 7amleh, the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, just released a report called Hashtag Palestine, looking at such takedowns and account blockades related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2020. “This is not the first time that Palestinians’ voices have been silenced, and it is clear that it is not the last,” Mona Shtaya, an advisor to 7amleh, told Al Jazeera about the recent account suspensions and content removals. In 2020, 7amleh found that Facebook complied with 81 percent of Israel’s requests to take down content, much of which was related to Palestine, the group says. In addition to takedowns, Fatafta said Access Now has heard many reports from groups and individuals that have been unable to use certain features, including “likes” and comments, or had their live-streams blocked or shut down in the middle of a broadcast.

The social-media companies have admitted to some takedowns and account blockages. Instagram apologized for the fact that many accounts couldn’t post content related to Palestine for a number of hours on May 6, and in some cases had their accounts flagged or blocked. The company said this was part of a broader technical problem that affected posts from a number of countries about a wide range of topics. “Many people thought we were removing their content because of what they posted or what hashtag they used, but this bug wasn’t related to the content itself,” Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, tweeted.

Some of those affected said they didn’t buy the explanation, however; Shtaya called it “neither logical nor convincing.” Instagram also blocked posts related to the Al-Aqsa mosque, and later apologized, saying the name of the mosque was mistakenly flagged by its moderation algorithms as terrorist content.

Facebook has also apologized for some of its takedowns in the past. In 2016, four editors at the Shehab News Agency and three executives from the Quds News Network, both news organizations that cover events in Palestine, had their personal accounts suddenly disabled, something Facebook said at the time was accidental. According to 7amleh and other groups, the Israeli government has a cyber unit that routinely makes takedown requests related to Palestinian content, and in some cases “coordinates groups of online trolls to report and share content that includes disinformation and hate speech directed towards Palestinians.” In an email to CJR on Tuesday, a Facebook spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the horrific ongoing violence. We know there have been several issues that have impacted people’s ability to share on our apps. We’re so sorry to everyone who felt they couldn’t bring attention to important events.”

Here’s more on social media and Palestine:

Arbitrary: Access Now, 7amleh, and a number of other human rights and advocacy groups recently wrote an open letter to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social-media networks saying their “arbitrary and non-transparent decisions constitute a serious violation of Palestinians’ fundamental rights including their right to freedom of expression, and their right to freedom of association and assembly online, which both Facebook and Twitter have pledged to honor in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” The groups asked for more transparency around moderation efforts.

Google: Sada Social Center, which monitors social media violations against Palestinian content, said in 2020 that Palestine was not identified as such on Google or Apple’s maps, but only as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The group also found that Google had begun to remove the names of Palestinian cities and roads from its maps while keeping Israeli roads. 

Anti-Semitism: Some Facebook users note that posts on social media criticizing Israel or defending Palestine are often flagged as anti-Semitism. The Intercept reported recently on what it called Facebook’s “secret internal rules for moderating use of the term Zionist,” which it says results in suppressing criticism of Israel. The rules appear to have been in place since 2019, which contradicts claims by the company that no decision had been made on whether to treat “Zionist” as a proxy for “Jew” when defining hate speech.

Takedown: Editorial staff at the videogame news site IGN published an open letter on Monday complaining about the removal of an IGN article and a related tweet that contained links to charities supporting Palestinian victims of violence. Both were posted May 15 in response to Israeli missile strikes on Gaza, but were taken down on May 16. IGN released a statement the next day that said the content was removed because it was “not in-line with our intent of trying to show support for all people impacted by tragic events,” and “mistakenly left the impression that we were politically aligned with one side.”

Other notable stories:

  • Reporters Without Borders announced Tuesday that it is launching the Journalism Trust Initiative, a set of resources designed to promote transparent and trustworthy journalism, funded by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark (who is a member of CJR’s Board of Overseers). Reporters Without Borders says the project will allow media outlets “to diagnose, optimize and promote the accuracy of their journalism, with the aim of building a healthier news ecosystem.” It is based on a list of criteria developed in collaboration with 130 media organizations and journalists.
  • A recent New York Times op-ed, titled “Stopping the Manipulation Machines,” criticized the use of so-called “dark patterns”—design tricks that push people to do things online by confusing or manipulating them. As an example, it talks about what some call Amazon’s “roach motel” account signup process, which makes it a lot harder to cancel an account than to sign up for one. But One Zero notes that the Times itself uses this same strategy, requiring subscribers to call on the phone in order to cancel, or sit through an online chat session with someone who tries to convince them not to quit.
  • Bill Grueskin, a Columbia Journalism School professor and regular contributor to CJR, writes about a defamation lawsuit launched by Project Veritas—a right-wing group that specializes in ambush videos—against the New York Times. Grueskin notes that after he asked for an interview, he was notified while away from his office at the Columbia campus that a Veritas crew, including founder James O’Keefe, “had made its way into the school, without advance notice and despite covid-related restrictions on visitors [and] they were walking the halls, looking for me.”
  • Journalist Keith Kloor described in a Twitter thread what he called a “massive journalism fail” in the reporting on UFOs from some well-established news organizations such as 60 Minutes. Kloor (and others) point out that such programs often rely on a handful of usual suspects to do interviews with, including Luis Elizondo, who is described as “a 20-year veteran of covert military intelligence operations.” But Kloor—who wrote about Elizondo for The Intercept—says there is no evidence that the man ever worked for or led a military UFO research unit, despite his claims to have done both of those things.
  • According to a newly unsealed court document reported on by New York magazine, the Department of Justice obtained a grand jury request to expose the author of a Twitter account that had mocked Republican congressman Devin Nunes, the head of the House Intelligence Committee. The magazine calls Nunes is an “enthusiastic litigant,” who believes that his critics in the media “should be shut down or forced to pay him lavish sums for their effrontery, and has filed, or threatened to file, a series of lawsuits against publications including Esquire, the Fresno Bee, and Twitter.”
  • In a development that will bring joy to text-loving journalists, Spotify said Tuesday it will start auto-transcribing podcasts in the coming weeks. The company said it will begin to offer the new feature on a number of its exclusive and original shows as part of a rollout of new accessibility elements for its app. Users can read the transcript with or without listening to the audio and can tap on any section of the text to jump to that point in the audio. Spotify said it plans to enable transcripts across all of its podcasts.
  • On Tuesday, staffers at Forbes magazine said they plan to form a union, which would cover about 105 employees in the editorial department, including reporters, editors, designers, photographers, videographers, and social media editors. More than 80 percent of employees in those departments have signed union cards with the NewsGuild of New York, which also represents the unions of the New York Times, Time, and NBC News Digital. CNN reported that the staff of Forbes are looking for job security, pay equity and editorial independence.
  • Journalism students need to be better prepared for the reality of online abuse and harassment they might receive when they join the industry, according to a new study described by Press Gazette. Published in the Journal of the Association for Journalism Education, the study found that abuse has become “more commonplace, more vile and more serious” in ways that can impact young journalists and their emotional well-being. It says that discussing this reality early is vital in preparing students.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Mathew Ingram is CJR’s chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in the Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as by Reuters and Bloomberg.


Wednesday, May 5th, 2021

By Kyle Pope, CJR

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Oldham cat which wanders into Co-op store becomes TikTok and Instagram star



A POPULAR cat which regularly wanders into a convenience store has become an overnight social media star.

Sarah Naylor and her son William welcomed a nine-month old kitten into their home in Lees around two years ago after he was in the care of charity Cat Protection.

The kitten has been rescued off the street.

William, who supported Tottenham Hotspur Football Club at the time, decided to name him Deli Alli, after the England international who plays for the London side.

And since he has lived with Sarah and William he has been known for venturing into nearby places, such as the Co-Op store on Owl Mill Street.

He also pops into the Angel Inn on Nicholson Street and Cartax Radio Cars on High StreetM Sarah said.

But it is his adventures in the Co-Op which is he mostly known for and this week, one of his fans took to social media platform TikTok and shared a post about him.

FAMILY: William with Deli Alli

FAMILY: William with Deli Alli

LOVING: Deli Alli

LOVING: Deli Alli

Including a picture of Deli Alli, the post read: “Don’t ask (be)cause I have no idea, but yes, there was a cat sat on my shopping.”

It has since been widely shared and has attracted more than 1m views and over 62,000 likes.

Deli Alli’s fame has shot up further after a meme was created about him on another social media outlet, Instagram.

Sarah, 38, said: “He is the first cat I have ever had and he was wild when we first got him.

“But now he is just like normal.

“He goes out and into the Co-Op and walks up and down the aisles and knows all the staff.

“He likes to hide in the baby food aisle and jump out at people and there’s a chair near the tills that he sits on.”

William, eight, is thrilled that his feline companion has been recognised widely online.

POPULAR: In the Co-Op in Lees

POPULAR: In the Co-Op in Lees

Reacting to Deli Alli’s newfound fame, he added: “I think it is really funny and I am really proud of him.”

Emily Lees, who works at the Co-Op store, said: “Delli Ali just lingers around all the time, he’s lovely.

“He does not like leavingm I think he thinks it’s his house.”

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Facebook’s AI treats Palestinian activists like it treats American Black activists. It blocks them.



The companies blamed the errors on glitches in artificial intelligence software.

In Twitter’s case, the company said its service mistakenly identified the rapid-firing tweeting during the confrontations as spam, resulting in hundreds of accounts being temporarily locked and the tweets not showing up when searched for. Facebook-owned Instagram gave several explanations for its problems, including a software bug that temporarily blocked video-sharing and saying its hate speech detection software misidentified a key hashtag as associated with a terrorist group.

The companies said the problems were quickly resolved and the accounts restored. But some activists say many posts are still being censored. Experts in free speech and technology said that’s because the issues are connected to a broader problem: overzealous software algorithms that are designed to protect but end up wrongly penalizing marginalized groups that rely on social media to build support. Black Americans, for example, have complained for years that posts discussing race are incorrectly flagged as problematic by AI software on a routine basis, with little recourse for those affected.

Despite years of investment, many of the automated systems built by social media companies to stop spam, disinformation and terrorism are still not sophisticated enough to detect the difference between desirable forms of expression and harmful ones. They often overcorrect, as in the most recent errors during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or they under-enforce, allowing harmful misinformation and violent and hateful language to proliferate, including hoaxes about coronavirus vaccines and violent posts ahead of the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.

The Palestinian situation erupted into a full-blown public relations and internal crisis for Facebook. Last week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg dispatched the company’s top policy executive, Nick Clegg, to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leadership, according to the company. Meanwhile, Palestinians launched a campaign to knock down Facebook’s ranking in app stores by leaving one-star reviews. The incident was designated “severity 1” — the company’s term for a sitewide emergency, according to internal documents reviewed by The Washington Post and first reported by NBC. The documents noted that Facebook executives reached out to Apple, Google, and Microsoft to request that the posts be deleted.

Meanwhile, a group of 30 Facebook employees, some of whom said they had friends and family affected by the conflict, have complained of “over-enforcement” on the Palestinian content in an open letter on the company’s workforce messaging boards, according to another set of internal documents reviewed by The Post. The group has filed at least 80 tickets to report “false positives” with the company’s automation systems in relation to the conflict, noting many of the problems were with the AI mistakenly labeling images of protests as “harassment or bullying.”

Jillian York, a director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group that opposes government surveillance, has researched tech company practices in the Middle East. She said she doesn’t believe that content moderation — human or algorithmic — can work at scale.

“Ultimately, what we’re seeing here is existing offline repression and inequality being replicated online, and Palestinians are left out of the policy conversation,” York said.

Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever said the company’s “policies are designed to give everyone a voice while keeping them safe on our apps, and we apply these policies equally.” She added that Facebook has a dedicated team of Arabic and Hebrew speakers closely monitoring the situation on the ground, but declined to say whether any were Palestinian. In an Instagram post May 7, Facebook also gave an account of what it said led to the glitch.

Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough said the enforcement actions were “more severe than intended under our policies” and that the company had reinstated the accounts where appropriate. “Defending and respecting the voices of the people who use our service is one of our core values at Twitter,” she said.

Palestinian activists took to the social media platforms as they began staging protests in late April ahead of an impending Israeli Supreme Court case over whether settlers had the right to evict families from their homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Potential evictees live-streamed confrontations and documented footage of injuries after Israeli police stormed al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

The conflict descended into war after terrorist group Hamas, which governs Gaza, fired explosive rockets into Israel. Israel responded with an 11-day bombing campaign that killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children. Twelve people in Israel were killed, including two children.

During the barrage, Palestinians posted photos on Twitter showing homes covered in rubble and children’s coffins. A cease-fire took effect May 20.

Palestinian activists and experts who study social movements say it was another watershed historical moment in which social media helped alter the course of events. They compared it to a decade ago, when social media platforms were key to organizing the pro-Democracy uprising known as the Arab Spring. But at the time, tech companies didn’t rely on policing algorithms, rather humans making decisions. And while mistakes were made, nothing occurred on the scale of today, York said.

Even after the companies said the glitches were fixed, 170 Instagram posts and five Twitter posts that activists believe were wrongly removed were still offline, according to 7amleh, the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, a group that advocates for Palestinian digital rights. The group said in a report in late May that it was told by the companies that some of the remaining posts are under review.

Facebook and Twitter declined to comment.

During the early protests in East Jerusalem, some posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were taken down for using the hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah, the name of the neighborhood in dispute, said Iyad Alrefaie, director of Sada Social, a group that tracks digital rights in the Palestinian territories.

Mariam Barghouti, a Palestinian-American journalist who covers the West Bank for Al Jazeera and other outlets, posted on Instagram that she had her account restricted by Twitter for purportedly violating the company’s social media policy while covering a protest. She said in media interviews that she did not know which tweets broke the rules. The company later restored her account and tweets, saying it made an error, according to spokeswoman Rosborough.

Digital rights groups Access Now, 7amleh and other organizations have spent the years since the Arab Spring documenting problems with how social media companies handle Palestinian content, as well as content from the region at large.

In 2016, Facebook blocked the accounts of several editors at two Palestinian news organizations without giving a reason, Al Jazeera reported at the time. After complaints, the social media company reversed the bans and said they had been accidental. In 2019, Twitter suspended accounts run by a Palestinian news organization, Quds News Network, in a sweep of terrorist accounts (which have since been reinstated, Twitter said). In May 2020, Facebook deactivated the accounts of more than 50 Palestinian journalists and activists without providing an explanation, activists said, including from journalists who posted footage of attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian farmers in occupied territories.

Facebook declined comment on those examples.

Facebook took down a post from a father wishing his infant son, named Qassam, a happy birthday, according to Alrefaie, the director of Sada Social. The group assumed that it was because the company blocks many posts about al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing.

“These words are part of our discourse, it’s a part of our culture,” Alrefaie said. “Facebook didn’t differentiate between any context.” Facebook declined comment on that incident.

Marwa Fatafta, digital rights policy manager for the Middle East and North Africa region for Access Now, said other keywords, such as the term Zionist, are often banned when Palestinians use them because it’s assumed to be antisemitic.

“Under our current policies, we allow the term ‘Zionist’ in political discourse, but remove attacks against Zionists in specific circumstances, when there’s context to show it’s being used as a proxy for Jews or Israelis, which are protected characteristics under our hate speech policy,” Facebook’s Lever said.

Some activists have developed workarounds to the algorithms, including using an ancient method of writing Arabic, according to an article by independent Egyptian news website Mada Masr. Some U.S. activists use similar tactics, purposely misspelling common words like “white” to avoid algorithmic censorship during discussions of race, The Post has reported.

Activists have also decried tech companies’ relationship with the Israeli government, and in particular the Ministry of Justice’s Cyber Unit — which has a direct channel to technology companies to report potential content violations. They have asked tech companies to be transparent about when the government secretly refers accounts to be blocked or content to be removed, including whether the unit was involved in takedowns during the war.

Facebook, Google and Twitter all said they comply with local laws and regularly respond to takedown requests from governments, which they publish in biannual transparency reports. Twitter said the spam filter issue had nothing to do with Israeli authorities. Facebook did not respond to several requests for comment about the nature of reports by Israeli authorities during the recent crisis. A Google spokesman declined to say whether it received bulk requests from the Cyber Unit.

Journalists and activists have also complained that Google hasn’t updated its maps of Gaza with higher-resolution images, despite a U.S. law limiting the degree of detail in public maps of the area being lifted in 2020. Detailed maps help document the damage from airstrikes.

Google declined to comment on why the Gaza maps have not been updated.

Payment app Venmo also mistakenly suspended transactions of humanitarian aid to Palestinians during the war. The company said it was trying to comply with U.S. sanctions and had resolved the issues.

Tech companies are caught between governments trying to stop unrest or violence and activists advocating for free democratic expression, said James Grimmelmann, a law professor at Cornell Tech.

“So the platforms really have to make deeply political choices,” he said.

The latest issues began May 5, when Instagram started receiving reports that people participating in protests in Colombia could not share video, the company later said in a post in which it apologized for its errors. The next day, similar reports came from people participating in demonstrations in Canada and in East Jerusalem. Executives discovered a glitch in a long-planned update to video-sharing products, called Stories. In its apology, the company noted that the bug had nothing to do with these particular events, and in fact had affected more users in the United States than elsewhere.

Several days later, citizens and activists began reporting their posts about al-Aqsa Mosque, using the hashtag #AlAqsa or its Arabic counterparts, were being restricted. The restrictions were often accompanied by a pop-up that said the term was associated with “violence or dangerous organizations.”

On May 11, a Facebook employee filed a grievance, according to a report by BuzzFeed. Facebook said in response that the name of the mosque was a designated terrorist organization. Facebook later told The Post that the hashtag had been restricted in several ways, not only blocking individual posts but also limiting people’s ability to search for it.

Around the same time, Twitter began fielding reports that influential accounts tweeting about the conflict were being unexpectedly suspended, the company said, due to AI mistaking posts for spam. The company says it restored the accounts a few hours later.

Twitter spokeswoman Rosborough noted that similar incidents of overly severe enforcement took place during the 2020 presidential debates and during protests against a coup this spring in Myanmar.

And sometimes, she pointed out, algorithms get things right: At one point during the conflict, an algorithm also automatically restricted the Israeli army’s official account. The account was trying to post the same tweet twice, of emergency sirens going off in the southern city of Beersheba, and Twitter blocked it.

“We know it’s repetitive — but that’s the reality for Israelis all over the country,” the tweet said.

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Karen from Brighton’s Instagram post with new Melbourne lockdown song



Karen from Brighton returns with a Backstreet Boys song about lockdown. Picture: Instagram
Karen from Brighton returns with a Backstreet Boys song about lockdown. Picture: Instagram

Social media sensation Karen from Brighton has returned with a new song to help boost Melburnians spirits during the latest lockdown.

Jodi Grollo, who shot to fame as Karen from Brighton last year when she complained about walking the same streets of the posh bayside suburb, says she has returned home from Noosa to help get Victorians through another lockdown.

In her latest Instagram post on Thursday, she covered the Backstreet Boys’ smash hit Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) with lyrics adapted to Victoria’s situation.

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“Everybody, yeah, I’m so sorry,” she sang.

“Everybody, lock your doors tonight, Covid’s back all right.

“Oh my God it’s back again. Everybody’s locked inside again.

“Covid’s back another variant now, 12 months on and we still don’t know how.

“Is it original, maybe.”

Ms Grollo then had another subtle swipe at the Premier Dan Andrews and Health Minister Martin Foley, who she has heavily criticised in the past for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Can we blame Danny? Not likely,” she continued.

“How’s about Foley? Well probably.

“All I know is that we need to lock our bloody doors again tonight. Crap.”

The post has already gathered more than 10,500 views in just 24 hours.

Ms Grollo rose to social media fame when she was interviewed on Nine News from Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens track during last year’s crippling lockdown and was asked about a new restriction not to cross council boundaries while exercising.

“Well, you get sick of walking the same streets,” she said. “You know, I’ve done all of Brighton.”

Jody Grollo, known as Karen from Brighton, departs for Darwin at Melbourne Airport in October last year. Picture: NCA NewsWire/David Geraghty
Jody Grollo, known as Karen from Brighton, departs for Darwin at Melbourne Airport in October last year. Picture: NCA NewsWire/David Geraghty

She was then involved in a bitter war of words with the Premier before she eventually packed up and moved to Queensland via the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs facility to escape Victoria’s lockdown.

Although she indicated the move would probably be permanent at the time, she says she has returned this week to “help get us through another lockdown”.

The viral celebrity is the daughter of pokies king Bruce Mathieson and the wife of Gianni Grollo, whose family controls the prominent Grollo construction empire.

Some have dubbed her ‘Karen from Brighton’ for her response to Melbourne’s lockdown on Nine News.



Jack Paynter is NCA NewsWire’s breaking news and crime reporter based in Melbourne. He began his career as a local journalist at Leader community news in suburban Melbourne before moving to Hobart for a stint…

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