Is Facebook Censoring Posts Critical of the Social Media Giant?

Israelis claim that posts relating to the social media network and its PR firm have disappeared.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Bloomberg

Posts on Israel's Mizbala website, which have links to stories critical of Facebook and its public relations firm in Israel, have disappeared online, according to various social media users. Among those who have reported the apparent erasure of the posts are TheMarker’s deputy editor, Rotem Shtarkman, and journalist Shai Golden.

Facebook has told Haaretz that it is investigating the matter.

The posts shared a story in which Mizbala exposed internal documents from the monitoring systems of the Shalom Tel Aviv public relations office, among whose clients are Facebook, Bank Hapoalim and the Israel Association of Banks. The blog showed a screen shot of a system that monitors internet references to the local protest against Israel's banking sector.

The system created automated searches of key words related to that protest and its leaders, Barak Cohen and Eran Vered. Other users also shared this story, but their posts were not removed.

The disappearance of the posts was preceded by long and complex interactions between the leaders of that protest and social media, as well as with Google, which prevented the Mizbala website from appearing in searches.

A year ago Facebook took the protesters’ page off the website and last December they filed a suit against the company, demanding, among other things, that social media be defined as a dual-character entity. This means legally defining it as a private organization that is nevertheless subject to some of the obligations that apply to public agencies, rendering it accountable to administrative law by dint of the public role it fulfills.

The link to the Mizbala story gathered 7,100 shares (up to the time this column was written) and one tweet. Over the weekend several people noticed that their posts had disappeared or had become unavailable for viewing by others. Many other users shared the same story but their comments remained in place. Thus, this may have been a glitch or a result of automatic action taken by the system.

Shtarkman, for example, shared the story in a tweet, which is automatically shared on Facebook. “This tweet came to my Facebook page and became a widely shared post, with many shares and likes. And then it disappeared, or was made to. Poof!" he tweeted. The post didn’t disappear but other internet users aside from him could not reach it. Sunday morning it again became available for viewing by other users.

Golden wrote a detailed post in which he called for a protest against Facebook, but it disappeared on Saturday. He posted it again Sunday with a new introduction: “Take 2. This post was removed last night. It may have been an error. A human or computer mistake or changes in the weather. Who knows? I’m posting it again. Let’s see.”

He went on: “The Israeli public has proven in recent years that its capacity to mount a protest with public reverberations by means of social media is probably its strongest political asset today. It seems that it’s time to employ that power in order to protest against the mother of all social media. A mother who has become too big, impervious and rapacious. A mother for whom a substitute can be found, if she continues to treat her children as a captive audience. Do you want an example of a quiet and effective protest? Never click on advertising. Never, not on any banner. This will greatly unsettle our friends in America and their Israeli employees. Continue with posts and statuses for sharing, but don’t click on any notices. Simple, isn’t it? It’s worth a try.”

“It will be interesting to see if this post is removed. Luckily I don’t need Facebook in order to express myself. In any case, it’s time to remind the American juggernaut that we’re not a colony and it’s not the Roman Empire,” wrote Golden.

Other Israeli internet users also complained that their postings had been removed. “This is the item I shared two days ago and which Facebook erased,” wrote Noga Eitan. “I think it’s time to start doubting not only Facebook’s liberalism – we’ve known for a long time that ‘Zuki’ has strange notions about the freedom of expression – but also the basic decency of this corporation, for whose astronomical profits we forgo our privacy. It’s frightening. Big Brother knows what you did last summer, and if he doesn’t like it you’ll hear about it. Share! This will be an interesting experiment.”