Telecommunication methods of the 21st century such as smartphones and high-speed Internet have played a central role in transmitting information widely, turning the world into a small village. Social media platforms have boomed as a result and have become essential venues for individuals to spread thoughts, opinions and ideologies. These platforms connect the world through servers, and this helps people everywhere to discover new cultures, identities and beliefs. These social platforms give people an additional venue to utilize their freedom of expression to discuss or criticize what they want.
But this freedom has been limited for some people. Just like the “real” world, the digital world can be a biased and unjust place.
My experience with the unequal restrictions that the social media platforms impose began in December 2019, when the administration of Facebook deleted my account without explanation. I was sitting in the university cafeteria with my friends when I checked my page to find that it was deleted. A white page occupied my phone screen that said: “Facebook profile no longer exists.”
I felt shocked and sad, because my profile was a significant tool that I used to talk about the Palestinian cause, by posting and sharing content about what was going around me. I understood immediately, however, that my page had been deleted merely because I had expressed my personal experience as a Palestinian person who lives under the Israeli occupation.
It was not easy for me to lose my Facebook account, because it contained precious old memories that connected me with acquaintances and friends from the past 10 years. I used to share Palestinian content on my Facebook account because I considered spreading the truth about the Palestinian life under Israeli occupation and the various forms of oppression that Palestinians face every day — such as assassination, arrest and seizure of lands and properties — as a serious responsibility that falls upon me as a Palestinian.
I am not the only Palestinian silenced by Facebook
Many other Palestinians feel the same way and use social media platforms to reach a wide international audience with information concerning the struggle for their human rights and the abuse and further injustice they suffer for doing so. Therefore, my Facebook account is not the only one that has been silenced. Hundreds of Palestinian journalists and activists have had their social media accounts deleted because their content shows the real plight of Palestinians and the unflattering truth about the State of Israel’s crimes against them.
“Nearly 500 removals on Instagram and Facebook were documented by 7amleh, a Palestinian digital rights non-profit, between 6 and 19 May, Kari Paul wrote in The Guardian. “Now, 7amleh and more than 30 other human rights organizations are calling for greater transparency into the social network’s decision-making, especially as it relates to Palestine as part of a campaign titled Facebook, We Need to Talk.”
By deleting our accounts Facebook infers that Palestinian content contains hate speech and antisemitism, yet at the same time they claim that “Our Community Standards apply to everyone, all around the world, and to all types of content.” But they do not apply these standards on the Israeli side. Facebook deletes and hides Palestinian voices, including photos, videos and posts that talk about the Palestinian resistance, especially during the recent events in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem and the brutal bombings of the Gaza Strip in May 2021.
Oppressed digitally in multiple ways
The severe restrictions on Palestinian content on social media platforms is one result of the many economic contracts between Israel and international corporations, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Amazon and YouTube. These tech companies have agreed to provide cloud services to Israel, which has contributed to the strengthening of Israel’s digital control of cyberspace. This has enabled Israel to violate and access sensitive information of Palestinians, which limits their role on social platforms. For example, the algorithm system on these platforms prevents some themes and words from appearing in content, such as the words martyr and resistance and the names of certain Palestinian political figures and parties. These maneuvers restrict the Palestinian narrative and strengthen the Israeli one before the world.
While Israel censors Palestinian content on social media platforms, it also uses Palestinians’ expressed political views on those platforms as justification for arresting and detaining them. According to the Palestinian Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, Israeli forces arrested more than 350 Palestinians during 2018 because of their posts on social media platforms, especially on Facebook. This contradicts Facebook’s Community Standards about privacy that says: “We’re committed to protecting personal privacy and information. Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves, choose how and when to share on Facebook, and connect more easily.”
Why I speak out
It is in Israel’s interest to bolster continuous global support for itself while hiding its crimes against the Palestinians. Israel can only continue to grab Palestinian land, break international laws, and violate Palestinian human rights if they are not held accountable by the international community. Strong international awareness, support and action are critical to helping protect and further the Palestinian cause.
As a Palestinian, I oppose the policy of silencing Palestinian voices and content concerning Palestinian suffering. I believe in the necessity of documenting the unjust practices that we face every day, because it builds awareness and reinforces our narrative internationally.
We, as Palestinians, have to contribute to raising the Palestinian voice despite the various obstacles and limits imposed on our freedom of expression and digital rights. We must not retreat from claiming our rights on the international level and we must continue to reject Israel’s colonialism, oppression, and violence.