Facebook Sets Up Hebrew, Arabic Center to Fight Incitement During Gaza Flare-up

Special operation center is an attempt to fight hate speech, threats of violence, incitement, graphic violence in Hebrew and Arabic, social media giant says

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A smartphone screen displaying the Facebook logo last month.
A smartphone screen displaying the Facebook logo last month.Credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY - AFP

Facebook has set up a special center dedicated to Hebrew and Arabic content issues related to the current flare-up in Israel and Gaza, the social media platform said Wednesday.

Facebook and other social media platforms have faced criticism for the spread of violent content, which critics say has fueled tensions on both sides of the conflict.

In a meeting with reporters at the launch of its latest community standards enforcement report, Facebook’s vice president of content policy, Monika Bickert, said the social media site has “set up a special operations center that has 24-hour capabilities, with native speakers of Arabic and Hebrew, so that we can stay on top of trends, make sure that we are identifying content that violates our policies and remove that quickly.”

The teams are focused on fighting "hate speech, threats of violence, incitement and graphic violence."

She added that the center “is something that we’ve done in the past when we have a situation where there’s a safety threat on the ground or there’s an election, and we know that the landscape will be changing rapidly.”

While the center focuses on potential breaches of Facebook’s community guidelines, she added that there was also a “general push” by Facebook to fight “misinformation.”

According to Bickert, “There’s more than 80 [fact-checkers] that we work with, they do include fact-checking partners in both Palestine and Israel, and in both Arabic and Hebrew languages.”

A representative for Facebook previously told Haaretz that global news agency Reuters is the social media platform’s Hebrew-language fact-checker for coronavirus disinformation, as well as content related to elections and politics. This team has previously debunked images shared on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that falsely claimed to be related to the conflict, the news agency reported.

“We’ll keep this operation center going, and as long as necessary, and we’ll be looking to assess the situation on the ground to inform our decisions on that,” Bickert told reporters.

Last week, U.S. news site The Intercept reported that internal Facebook rules regarding the word “Zionist” have “let the social network suppress criticism of Israel” both on its own social media platform and also Instagram, which it owns.

Also last week, BuzzFeed News reported that Instagram had mistakenly removed content about Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, where Israeli security police clashed with Muslim worshippers earlier this month. Reuters also reported that Instagram and Twitter had blamed glitches for the deletion of posts mentioning the possible eviction of Palestinian families from homes in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem.

The incidents at Al Aqsa and in East Jerusalem were widely seen as inciting incidents for the latest flare-up between Israel and Islamist groups in Gaza.

Facebook has banned Hamas from its platform and removes content praising the Islamist group, which is regarded by Israel, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

Reuters contributed background to this report.

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