The Arab Center for the Development of Social Media (7amleh) documented 500 violations of digital rights in Palestine between 6 and 29 May. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) expressed deep concerns over the role of social media platforms in enabling the censorship and threats during the recent events in Palestine and Israel and demanded urgent explanations from the companies.
The report, “The Attacks on Palestinian Digital Rights”, published on 21 May, documents how, since May 6th, when the Israeli supreme court announced its decision to forcibly displace Palestinians living in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and following the attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque, large amounts of Palestinian content and accounts were removed or restricted on social media platforms.
According to the report, content and accounts were removed, reduced and restricted, hashtags were hidden, and archived content deleted. 50% of the reported incidents involved Instagram, 35% Facebook, 11% Twitter and 1% Tik Tok. 3% of the complaints did not include sufficient information to be reported to companies.
7amleh reported that, in most of the cases, social media companies did not provide a clear justification for the deletion of content or suspension of accounts.
Censorship of Palestinians on social media, which represents a serious attack on freedom of information and expression, is an ongoing issue, and the recent increase in reports and violations represents an escalation of an already existing problem.
In February 2021, the PJS and 7amleh signed a cooperation agreement and organized a forum with Palestinian journalists reporting in the field and from the diaspora to discuss ways to enforce their digital rights when reporting on Palestinian issues.
In addition to censorship, the center received 40 reports exposing hate speech and incitement to violence against Palestinians and Arabs online, including reports of Israeli extremist groups mobilizing lynch mobs on WhatsApp and Telegram.
IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger said: “The IFJ is deeply concerned over the reports revealing the arbitrary suspension of Palestinian social media accounts and deletion of content. Social media are crucial tools for journalists to report and share their work with their audience that must not be arbitrarily censored. Social media platforms must explain in detail all decisions to block freedom of information in their networks”.