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Israel Violates Palestinian Digital Rights Simultaneously With Its War on Gaza

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
7th November 2023
Israel Violates Palestinian Digital Rights Simultaneously With Its War on Gaza
7amleh monitored violent content against Palestinians in Hebrew (Getty)

The Arab Center for Social Media Advancement (7amleh) issued on November 1st a comprehensive report, focusing on the state of Palestinian digital rights since the beginning of the Israeli war on Gaza on October 7. This war has resulted in the deaths of over 10,000 Palestinians. Israel declared war on the Gaza Strip following Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, which was carried out by the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. This operation led to the killing of approximately 1,400 Israelis and the captivation of dozens of Israeli soldiers and settlers. 

Israel is Violating the Digital Rights of Palestinians

The Center's report documented the rise of hate speech on social media platforms, the spread of misleading information, and the undermining of pro-Palestinian discourse. The report also monitored digital rights violations following Israel's disruption of communications in Gaza, along with Israeli government violations such as arbitrary arrests, interrogations, and harassment related to social media activity.

Regarding hate speech and violence directed against Palestinians, the "Violence Index," supported by artificial intelligence techniques, identified more than 590,000 violent and hate-inciting contents, primarily in Hebrew, with most of them being disseminated on the X platform (formerly Twitter). Additionally, the Palestinian Digital Rights Observatory (Hor) documented over 1,009 violations of Palestinian digital rights, including content removal, restrictions, hate speech, and incitement to violence.

7amleh warned that hate speech on social media platforms can have consequences in the real world, by using false and misleading information as a weapon to incite violence, manipulate global public opinion, and legitimize collective punishment against Palestinians, emphasizing that companies like Meta and TikTok imposing controls on Palestinian voices are a violation of digital rights and have a negative impact on freedom of expression for journalists and human rights defenders. The Center stressed the negative impact of false and misleading information on freedom of expression and the right to access information. Misinformation is used as a weapon to spread hate, incite violence, and manipulate global public opinion, diverting attention from what is happening on the ground.

Misbar has previously published several articles that addressed the Israeli narrative used by the occupation to incite violence and promote hate speech. One of these articles discussed the current war as a conflict between civilizations and portrayed it as a war by all civilized nations against Hamas, which they claimed to be a version of ISIS.

Measures Taken by Social Media Companies After the Start of the War on Gaza

7amleh emphasized in its report the importance of ensuring that the business activities of social media companies do not have consequences on human rights, after the digital platforms have turned into places for continuous digital rights violations since the beginning of the Israeli aggression against Gaza. 

Violations of digital rights have proliferated on Meta's platforms, including the censorious practices that were imposed to silence Palestinian voices. At the same time, there were minimal restrictions on the dissemination of incitement and hate speech in Hebrew. 7amleh Center documented around 627 violations on Meta's platforms, including 344 incitements to violence or hate speech and 283 restrictions and removals.

7amleh Center has identified various forms and methods used to silence Palestinian voices on Meta's platforms. These include shadow-banning influencers' stories, automatically postponing their display, and prioritizing other stories. Furthermore, they changed the default visibility settings for all users in the region to "Friends only" to limit the spread of content. The restrictions also included blocking the ability to comment and automatically translating the word "Palestinian" to "Palestinian terrorist." Meta later apologized for this incident and attributed it to a technical glitch.

It is worth noting that Meta reduced the minimum confidence level for Palestinian content from 80% to 25%. This change leads to increased automatic content removal due to the larger volume of Arabic content that violates their policies.

The "Violence Index" in the 7amleh Center identified around half a million Hebrew-language posts on the X platform (formerly Twitter) that incite violence or hatred. X did not show enough attention to human rights organizations and civil society entities to combat violent content, especially content in Hebrew.

As for the Telegram, which its founder Pavel Durov claims does not have content control algorithms, it also served as a suitable environment for the spread of harmful content and hate speech. Many channels on Telegram called for the genocide of Palestinians.

Nature of Israeli Violations of Palestinian Digital Rights

Since October 7, Israel has arrested and interrogated Palestinians due to their activities on social media platforms. 7amleh documented cases of arrest for expressing opinions on social media platforms. In the same context, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, "Adalah," documented at least 161 cases (excluding East Jerusalem) of arrests, interrogations, and charges in the occupied territories in 1948 based on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media posts. These posts included criticism of the Israeli government or expressions of support for Palestinian rights. In the context of Israeli escalation against Palestinians and their digital rights, 7amleh Center documented incitement to violence and the spread of misleading information by Israeli officials through social media and the media.

At the end of this report on Palestinian digital rights, 7amleh included a set of recommendations and demands for social media platforms. These include prioritizing the adoption of a comprehensive approach to protect the digital rights of Palestinian humans and addressing methods of discrimination against Palestinian society and narratives in line with U.N. principles. The platforms are also urged to reassess their content management policies and practices and confront the incitement to violence to create a safe space for all users. You can read the full document with the rest of the recommendations and details through the provided link.

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