Facebook Didn’t Even Bother to Reply

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Attendees walk past a Facebook logo during Facebook Inc's F8 developers conference in San Jose, 2019.
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The giant corporation Facebook has spokespersons and a PR department in Israel, which publishes the names of its employees.

On Saturday, I sent them questions regarding the blocking of the account of a Palestinian user, Omar Nazzal. That is, I wanted to understand why Facebook put up a roadblock in its cyberspace. The Israel Defense Forces puts up roadblocks in the geographical space and denies the Palestinians their right to freedom of movement, and Facebook does the same in virtual space.

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Reports and investigations prove that Nazzal is not the only Palestinian targeted by Facebook’s restriction of movement policy. At the same time, this social-corporate network is filled with the accounts of settlers and settlements and with ads for settlements. In other words, Facebook systematically provides total freedom of movement to serial criminals who violate international law, and encourages crimes such as moving to settlements.

From Facebook’s notification to Nazzal about the suspension of his account, it could be inferred that it was because he posted a letter written by political prisoner Khalida Jarrar after the funeral of her daughter Suha – a funeral the mother was not permitted to attend. I asked Facebook about the reason for the suspension and how the decision was made. I didn’t get an answer.

We, the journalists who cover the Israeli occupation from an explicitly stated starting point of opposing it as a matter of principle, are accustomed to government spokespersons who evade giving answers, do not provide information and sometimes lie. But they – the spokespersons for the army, the Civil Administration, the Israel Prison Service and even the Shin Bet security service – at least send some sort of generic reply. Sometimes they may surprise us and supply a little information, on or off the record.

I don’t know if it was a personal decision by Israeli Facebook spokespersons not to answer me, or if the directive came from above. But failure to reply to a journalist’s question – which is rude in itself – is a type of statement: “After all, we know that nothing will reduce our power, certainly not the failure to discuss Facebook’s discriminatory treatment of Palestinian users. So why should we bother to reply?”

In the absence of an official response, it is left for us to answer: Presumably there were Israelis who demanded the suspension of Nazzal’s account, and Facebook obeyed. On May 13, during the war in Gaza, Defense Minister Benny Gantz – who was then also the justice minister – met with company representatives and pressed them to take more serious steps against “extremist elements that are seeking to do damage to our country” (Time Magazine, May 21, citing a statement from his office).

In fact, Time reported, in the week since the meeting, the Justice Ministry noticed that Facebook had responded more quickly to Israeli requests to remove content. “We would like to see even greater responsiveness going forward,” Time quoted a ministry official as telling the magazine.

Israel has the personnel resources, the money and the unlimited chutzpah to pressure Facebook and its ilk to hobble the movement of the Palestinians and their supporters in cyberspace. Just as it has the power to deter mainstream international media outlets from investigating its actions against the Palestinians.

Israel has the power to influence Facebook’s algorithms to interpret as incitement or violence any Palestinian definition of the nature of the oppressive Israeli regime that dispossesses them, any criticism or any incriminating photograph of Israeli killings or home demolitions.

Whether it was the Israel National Cyber Directorate, supposedly “neutral users” or Facebook’s existing algorithms that demanded the suspension of Nazzal’s account, Israel’s aggressive footprint is in evidence here too. And Facebook again proved that it sides with the center of power and money. Had the company existed in apartheid-era South Africa, its blocking policy would undoubtedly have adapted to the demands and persecution methods of the white racist regime.

P.S. On Tuesday morning, after this article was published in Hebrew, Facebook unblocked Nazzal’s account and apologized. “We are sorry we got this wrong,” the new announcement to Nazzal said.

I don’t know if it was a personal decision at Facebook Israel not to answer me, or if the directive came from above.

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