Meta Refuses to Answer Questions on Gaza Censorship, Say Sens. Warren and Sanders
Sam BiddleMarch 26 2024, 8:00 a.m.
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 03: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) questions U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell as he testifies at a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on the Fed's "Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress," on Capitol Hill on March 3, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)
Citing the company’s “failure to provide answers to important questions,” Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are pressing Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, to respond to reports of disproportionate censorship around the Israeli war on Gaza.

“Meta insists that there’s been no discrimination against Palestinian-related content on their platforms, but at the same time, is refusing to provide us with any evidence or data to support that claim,” Warren told The Intercept. “If its ad-hoc changes and removal of millions of posts didn’t discriminate against Palestinian-related content, then what’s Meta hiding?”

In a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent last December, first reported by The Intercept, Warren presented the company with dozens of specific questions about the company’s Gaza-related content moderation efforts. Warren asked about the exact numbers of posts about the war, broken down by Hebrew or Arabic, that have been deleted or otherwise suppressed.

The letter was written following widespread reporting in The Intercept and other outlets that detailed how posts on Meta platforms that are sympathetic to Palestinians, or merely depicting the destruction in Gaza, are routinely removed or hidden without explanation.

A month later, Meta replied to Warren’s office with a six-page letter, obtained by The Intercept, that provided an overview of its moderation response to the war but little in the way of specifics or new information.

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“Meta’s lack of investment to safeguard its users significantly exacerbates the political situation in Palestine and perpetuates tech harms on fundamental rights in Palestine and other global majority countries, all while evading meaningful legal accountability,” Mona Shtaya, nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told The Intercept. “The time has come for Meta, among other tech giants, to publicly disclose detailed measures and investments aimed at safeguarding individuals amidst the ongoing genocide, and to be more responsive to experts and civil society.”

Meta’s reply disclosed some censorship: “In the nine days following October 7, we removed or marked as disturbing more than 2,200,000 pieces of content in Hebrew and Arabic for violating our policies.” The company declined, however, to provide a breakdown of deletions by language or market, making it impossible to tell whether that figure reflects discriminatory moderation practices.

Much of Meta’s letter is a rehash of an update it provided through its public relations portal at the war’s onset, some of it verbatim.

Now, a second letter from Warren to Meta, joined this time by Sanders, says this isn’t enough. “Meta’s response, dated January 29, 2024, did not provide any of the requested information necessary to understand Meta’s treatment of Arabic language or Palestine-related content versus other forms of content,” the senators wrote.

Both senators are asking Meta to again answer Warren’s specific questions about the extent to which Arabic and Hebrew posts about the war have been treated differently, how often censored posts are reinstated, Meta’s use of automated machine learning-based censorship tools, and more.

Accusations of systemic moderation bias against Palestinians have been borne out by research from rights groups.

“Since October 7, Human Rights Watch has documented over 1,000 cases of unjustified takedowns and other suppression of content on Instagram and Facebook related to Palestine and Palestinians, including about human rights abuses,” Human Rights Watch said in a late December report. “The censorship of content related to Palestine on Instagram and Facebook is systemic, global, and a product of the company’s failure to meet its human rights due diligence responsibilities.”


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A February report by AccessNow said Meta “suspended or restricted the accounts of Palestinian journalists and activists both in and outside of Gaza, and arbitrarily deleted a considerable amount of content, including documentation of atrocities and human rights abuses.”

A third-party audit commissioned by Meta itself previously concluded it had given the short shrift to Palestinian rights during a May 2021 flare-up of violence between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. “Meta’s actions in May 2021 appear to have had an adverse human rights impact … on the rights of Palestinian users to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, political participation, and non-discrimination, and therefore on the ability of Palestinians to share information and insights about their experiences as they occurred,” said the auditor’s report.

In response to this audit, Meta pledged an array of reforms, which free expression and digital rights advocates say have yet to produce a material improvement.

In its December report, Human Rights Watch noted, “More than two years after committing to publishing data around government requests for taking down content that is not necessarily illegal, Meta has failed to increase transparency in this area.”

Update: March 26, 2024, 1:11 p.m. ET
This story has been updated to include a statement received after publication from Mona Shtaya, a nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

https://theintercept.com/2024/03/26/meta-gaza-censorship-warren-sanders/
Meta Refuses to Answer Questions on Gaza Censorship, Say Sens. Warren and Sanders Sam BiddleMarch 26 2024, 8:00 a.m. WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 03: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) questions U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell as he testifies at a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on the Fed's "Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress," on Capitol Hill on March 3, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images) Citing the company’s “failure to provide answers to important questions,” Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are pressing Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, to respond to reports of disproportionate censorship around the Israeli war on Gaza. “Meta insists that there’s been no discrimination against Palestinian-related content on their platforms, but at the same time, is refusing to provide us with any evidence or data to support that claim,” Warren told The Intercept. “If its ad-hoc changes and removal of millions of posts didn’t discriminate against Palestinian-related content, then what’s Meta hiding?” In a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent last December, first reported by The Intercept, Warren presented the company with dozens of specific questions about the company’s Gaza-related content moderation efforts. Warren asked about the exact numbers of posts about the war, broken down by Hebrew or Arabic, that have been deleted or otherwise suppressed. The letter was written following widespread reporting in The Intercept and other outlets that detailed how posts on Meta platforms that are sympathetic to Palestinians, or merely depicting the destruction in Gaza, are routinely removed or hidden without explanation. A month later, Meta replied to Warren’s office with a six-page letter, obtained by The Intercept, that provided an overview of its moderation response to the war but little in the way of specifics or new information. Most Read “Meta’s lack of investment to safeguard its users significantly exacerbates the political situation in Palestine and perpetuates tech harms on fundamental rights in Palestine and other global majority countries, all while evading meaningful legal accountability,” Mona Shtaya, nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told The Intercept. “The time has come for Meta, among other tech giants, to publicly disclose detailed measures and investments aimed at safeguarding individuals amidst the ongoing genocide, and to be more responsive to experts and civil society.” Meta’s reply disclosed some censorship: “In the nine days following October 7, we removed or marked as disturbing more than 2,200,000 pieces of content in Hebrew and Arabic for violating our policies.” The company declined, however, to provide a breakdown of deletions by language or market, making it impossible to tell whether that figure reflects discriminatory moderation practices. Much of Meta’s letter is a rehash of an update it provided through its public relations portal at the war’s onset, some of it verbatim. Now, a second letter from Warren to Meta, joined this time by Sanders, says this isn’t enough. “Meta’s response, dated January 29, 2024, did not provide any of the requested information necessary to understand Meta’s treatment of Arabic language or Palestine-related content versus other forms of content,” the senators wrote. Both senators are asking Meta to again answer Warren’s specific questions about the extent to which Arabic and Hebrew posts about the war have been treated differently, how often censored posts are reinstated, Meta’s use of automated machine learning-based censorship tools, and more. Accusations of systemic moderation bias against Palestinians have been borne out by research from rights groups. “Since October 7, Human Rights Watch has documented over 1,000 cases of unjustified takedowns and other suppression of content on Instagram and Facebook related to Palestine and Palestinians, including about human rights abuses,” Human Rights Watch said in a late December report. “The censorship of content related to Palestine on Instagram and Facebook is systemic, global, and a product of the company’s failure to meet its human rights due diligence responsibilities.” Related Meta Considering Increased Censorship of the Word “Zionist” A February report by AccessNow said Meta “suspended or restricted the accounts of Palestinian journalists and activists both in and outside of Gaza, and arbitrarily deleted a considerable amount of content, including documentation of atrocities and human rights abuses.” A third-party audit commissioned by Meta itself previously concluded it had given the short shrift to Palestinian rights during a May 2021 flare-up of violence between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. “Meta’s actions in May 2021 appear to have had an adverse human rights impact … on the rights of Palestinian users to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, political participation, and non-discrimination, and therefore on the ability of Palestinians to share information and insights about their experiences as they occurred,” said the auditor’s report. In response to this audit, Meta pledged an array of reforms, which free expression and digital rights advocates say have yet to produce a material improvement. In its December report, Human Rights Watch noted, “More than two years after committing to publishing data around government requests for taking down content that is not necessarily illegal, Meta has failed to increase transparency in this area.” Update: March 26, 2024, 1:11 p.m. ET This story has been updated to include a statement received after publication from Mona Shtaya, a nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. https://theintercept.com/2024/03/26/meta-gaza-censorship-warren-sanders/
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Meta Refuses to Answer Questions on Gaza Censorship, Say Sens. Warren and Sanders
Facebook and Instagram’s parent company Meta dodged questions from Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders about censorship of posts about Gaza.
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