Facebook Allowing Israeli Security Forces To Shape The News Palestineans See
from the sporadic-pushback-coupled-with-routine-acquiescence dept
Facebook continues to increase its stranglehold on news delivery, reducing pipelines of info to a nonsensically-sorted stream for its billions of users. Despite the responsibility it bears to its users to keep this pipeline free of interference, Facebook is ingratiating itself with local governments by acting as a censor on their behalf.
While Facebook has fought back against government overreach in the United States, it seems less willing to do so in other countries. The reporting tools it provides to users are abused by governments to stifle critics and control narratives. And that’s on top of the direct line it opens to certain governments, which are used to expedite censorship. That’s what’s happening in Israel, as Glenn Greenwald reports:
[I]sraeli officials have been publicly boasting about how obedient Facebook is when it comes to Israeli censorship orders:
Shortly after news broke earlier this month of the agreement between the Israeli government and Facebook, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Tel Aviv had submitted 158 requests to the social media giant over the previous four months asking it to remove content it deemed “incitement.” She said Facebook had granted 95 percent of the requests.
She’s right. The submission to Israeli dictates is hard to overstate: As the New York Times put it in December of last year, “Israeli security agencies monitor Facebook and send the company posts they consider incitement. Facebook has responded by removing most of them.”
This is especially troubling given the context of the Palestinian-Israeli relationship. By favoring Israel’s view of “incitement,” Facebook is censoring news streams read by Palestinians, giving them a government-approved view of current events. While Facebook is apparently reluctant to take down pro-Israeli calls for violence, it’s been moving quickly to delete almost everything Israeli security forces deem “incitement.” The info Palestinians see — filtered through Facebook — provides a mostly one-sided depiction of ongoing unrest.
What makes this censorship particularly consequential is that “96 percent of Palestinians said their primary use of Facebook was for following news.” That means that Israeli officials have virtually unfettered control over a key communications forum of Palestinians.
This isn’t just a “war-torn Middle East” problem. It’s everyone’s problem. As Greenwald points out, the company — which was willing to fight for the rights of US citizens — seems far less willing to do so when the government’s target is a foreigner.
Facebook now seems to be explicitly admitting that it also intends to follow the censorship orders of the U.S. government. Earlier this week, the company deleted the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Ramzan Kadyrov, the repressive, brutal, and authoritarian leader of the Chechen Republic, who had a combined 4 million followers on those accounts. To put it mildly, Kadyrov — who is given free rein to rule the province in exchange for ultimate loyalty to Moscow — is the opposite of a sympathetic figure: He has been credibly accused of a wide range of horrific human rights violations, from the imprisonment and torture of LGBTs to the kidnapping and killing of dissidents.
But none of that dilutes how disturbing and dangerous Facebook’s rationale for its deletion of his accounts is. A Facebook spokesperson told the New York Times that the company deleted these accounts not because Kadyrov is a mass murderer and tyrant, but that “Mr. Kadyrov’s accounts were deactivated because he had just been added to a United States sanctions list and that the company was legally obligated to act.”
That’s all it takes: being placed on a list by a government. It’s not that Facebook should become a platform for evil people to spread their message, but that it should take more than a government saying it doesn’t like someone for Facebook to start deleting accounts. On top of that, Facebook is handling this in classic Facebook moderation mode:
Others who are on the same sanctions list, such as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, remain active on both Facebook and Instagram.
Sanctions list members should be punished by governments, not private companies. If the US government wants to claim an Instagram account equates to a sanction violation, it’s welcome to make that argument in court. The problem with Facebook is its actions are consistently inconsistent. It points to a sanction list it’s not even following. It battles overbroad warrants in court, fighting back against baseless intrusions by the government, but grants the government enough credibility to disappear anyone nominated for sanctions by the administration,
Around the world, it continues to treat some governments as more equal than others, and it stills seems to prefer access to users to protecting users, especially in countries where censorious actions are the norm. Facebook wants to be all things to all people, but mainly it just wants all people. Sacrificing a few ethical standards is the most expedient choice. While Facebook is welcome to inconsistently apply its moderation standards on its own, it’s extremely troubling it’s willing to do the same on behalf of world governments. While both may look like censorship, only the latter actually is. And in the long run, it will be the latter that does the most permanent damage.