Facebook Employees Voiced Concerns Over Palestinian Activist's Censorship, Leak Shows

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Palestinians march to protest Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, in June.
Palestinians march to protest Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, in June. Credit: Mahmoud Illean,AP

Internal Facebook documents leaked to the media show that Facebook employees expressed concerns about restrictions placed on the Instagram account of a Palestinian activist during the latest round of escalations between Israel and Gaza earlier this year.

According to ABC News, in a document titled “Concerns with added restrictions/demotions on content pertaining to Palestine,” employees questioned the moderation decisions of Facebook, which owns Instagram, pertaining to the account of the prominent Sheikh Jarrah-based activist Mohammed El-Kurd.

The ABC report added that employees were unable to figure out why El-Kurd’s social media reach was being limited by the platform; one employee warned that the activist’s Instagram stories were mistakenly flagged as violating the site’s rules and were thus limited.

Multiple employees added that the account had no restrictions on it for violating Facebook’s rules, and expressed frustration that the situation was not being solved internally.

The author of the document is quoted as writing, “Can we investigate the reasons why posts and stories pertaining to Palestine lately have had limited reach and engagement, especially when more people than ever from around the world are watching the situation unfold?"  The document links to a tweet by El-Kurd, who accuses the platform of silencing Palestinians.

In May, Instagram and Twitter blamed technical errors for deleting posts about the possible evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, rather than a moderation decision.

Instagram said in a statement that an automated update had caused content re-shared by multiple users to appear as missing, affecting posts on Sheikh Jarrah, Colombia, and U.S. and Canadian indigenous communities

"We are so sorry this happened. Especially to those in Colombia, East Jerusalem, and Indigenous communities who felt this was an intentional suppression of their voices and their stories - that was not our intent whatsoever," Instagram said at the time. A Facebook spokesperson clarified to ABC that the issue was quickly dealt with.

The document was part of a broader leak by former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen, who testified about the company’s damage to the U.S. Senate. She shared the documents with the government as well as news outlets.

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