Israel-Gaza: Social media users accuse Meta’s Instagram of censorship of pro-Palestinian posts

Special Israel-Gaza: Social media users accuse Meta’s Instagram of censorship of pro-Palestinian posts
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Updated 15 October 2023
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Israel-Gaza: Social media users accuse Meta’s Instagram of censorship of pro-Palestinian posts

Israel-Gaza: Social media users accuse Meta’s Instagram of censorship of pro-Palestinian posts

LONDON/DUBAI: Social media users have complained that posts and accounts have been suspended or banned due to their pro-Palestinian content in the wake of Israel’s  intense bombardment of the Gaza Strip. 

Mondoweiss, a news and analysis account dedicated to Palestine with platforms on X and TikTok, reported that its TikTok account had been temporarily taken down.  

Some Instagram users have also complained of restrictions on their accounts and inability to livestream.

One London-based user, who asked not to be named in fear of harassment, told Arab News that she had posted several Instagram stories regarding Palestine that only received up to five views within a couple of hours.

After posting a picture of a skirt, however, she reached 91 views in 40 minutes.




After posting a picture of a skirt, however, she reached 91 views in 40 minutes. (Instagram)
 

Several other users with pro-Palestinian accounts took to the site to raise awareness of the issue.

Another user, who asked to have her account handle blocked out, shared a story saying: “OK, so literally not one soul has seen my stories for the past hour.

“So let me try this: #FreeIsrael.”




Several other users with pro-Palestinian accounts took to the site to raise awareness of the issue. (Instagram)


Soon after, she posted another story with the Palestinian flag, stating that 40 people saw the post within five minutes. “I guess you post with #FreeIsrael if you want a voice on this platform,” she wrote.




After posting a picture of a skirt, however, she reached 91 views in 40 minutes. (Instagram)
 


The targeting of pro-Palestinian accounts came after the Israeli siege was imposed on the Gaza Strip. Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz said that “no electric switch will be turned on, no water hydrant will be opened, and no fuel truck will enter” until hostages taken by Hamas in its action were freed.

Nadim Nashif, the executive director and co-founder of 7amleh: The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, a Palestinian digital rights group, told Arab News that “7amleh has repeatedly documented how Palestinian content gets overly moderated and overly scrutinized by major online platforms.”

He added: “In the most recent context, for example, we noticed a double standard in how Meta hid the search results on an all-encompassing Arabic hashtag … associated with the recent escalation, but did not take similar action on the parallel hashtag in Hebrew because that was mainly used by state actors who get treated preferentially.”

Meta refutes any claims of censorship on the basis of taking sides or silencing Palestinian voices.

A Meta spokesperson told Arab News: “The suggestion that we’re trying to suppress a particular community or point of view is categorically untrue.

“Our policies are designed to give everyone a voice while keeping people safe on our apps, and we apply these policies regardless of who is posting, or their personal beliefs.”

The social networking giant recently released a post in which it listed the actions it was taking on accounts.

One of the points noted that “given the higher volumes of content being reported to us, we know content that doesn’t violate our policies may be removed in error.”

This is not the first time that Meta and its subsidiaries — which include Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — have been accused of censorship and shadow banning, a term that refers to blocking a user from a social media site or online forum without their knowledge, typically by making posts and comments no longer visible to other users.

Nashif added: “When we believe certain media platforms are not safeguarding the digital rights of Palestinians, we work to build pressure on those platforms, through our communities, to ensure those social media platforms acknowledge their role and responsibilities to human rights and to ensure their platforms are free from discrimination.”

Arab News reported on the censorship of accounts containing pro-Palestinian sentiments during the Sheikh Jarrah protests in 2021.

Meta then worked with groups such as 7amleh to address the issues.

Nashif said: “Meta engaged with 7amleh and other civil society organizations to mitigate its human rights impact following an assessment of its performance during Sheikh Jarrah (protests).

“However, we continue to face an uphill battle as so much of the Palestinian narrative and factual reporting out of Palestine get disproportionately targeted because of the company’s policies.”

Yumna Patel, the Palestine news director of Mondoweiss, said: “The censorship of Palestinian voices — those who support Palestine, and alternative news media who report on the crimes of the Israeli occupation — by social media networks and giants like Meta and TikTok is well documented. 

“We often see these violations become more frequent during times like this, when there is an uptick in violence and international attention on Palestine.

“We saw it with the censorship of Palestinian accounts on Instagram during the Sheikh Jarrah protests in 2021, the Israeli army’s deadly raids on Jenin in the West Bank in 2023, and now once again as Israel declares war on Gaza.”

Adnan Barq, a Palestinian public figure on Instagram, shared guidelines he was sent by Instagram, stating his content and profile could not be shown to non-followers.

Barq shared with the caption: “Blocked from going live. Stop your racism @instagram and grow the hell up.” 

To counter the shadow-bans, users circulated a memo noting how to get around Meta’s guidelines such as “breaking the rhythm of posting about Palestine with any other content, preferably anything from your gallery and not reposting from the platform itself.”




Users circulated a memo noting how to get around Meta’s guidelines. (Screenshot)

The European Commission also opened an investigation into X in the summer after warnings about misinformation linked to Hamas and Israel.

X was given 24 hours by the EU at the time to address the issue or face penalties under the Digital Services Act. 

TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew was given 24 hours by the European Commission on Thursday to show how his company was protecting teenagers from violent content and misinformation regarding issues surrounding incidents involving Israel and Hamas.

As Israel prepares for an on the ground invasion of Gaza while its residents were given 24 hours to evacuate, many social media users have been posting what they deem to be their last words citing lack of power to charge their outlets and the brutal bombardment they remain under. 


Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit
Updated 23 February 2024
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Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

MIAMI: The Future Investment Initiative Priority Summit in Miami brought together experts from various facets of the media industry on Friday for a panel discussion titled “Captivated by Content: How Brands are Adapting to Trends in Media Consumption.”

The key for any media owner is knowing their audience, but that audience is constantly evolving.

Sam Englebardt, founding general partner of Galaxy Interactive who has been a key investor in the gaming industry, said: “It used to be that we were catering to younger males … and now it’s pretty much the whole world.”

One of the problems with understanding audiences is doing so through data, said Bob Pittman, chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia.

“We’re entering this era of tyranny of the data,” he said, adding that the idea that if you cannot measure something it does not exist is a delusion.

As technology has become more pervasive, said Englebardt, “it’s now more possible than ever to really be everywhere they (audiences) are on whichever platform they have, so what are you going to make that people are going to care about, and how do you build a world that they want to spend conceivably all of their time in?”

However, it can be detrimental if people spend more time in virtual worlds than in the real one.

John Hanke, founder and CEO of mobile apps firm Niantic, is focused on building immersive experiences powered by augmented reality.

As a parent of three, he has struggled with determining how much screen time is acceptable for them, he said.

“It was the thing that motivated me to start thinking about video games that can take place out in the world,” he added.

“It’s up to us to think about how we evolve that technology to help us be better humans and be out in the world interacting with one another, and thankfully, technology is headed in that direction with augmented reality wearable devices.”

The worlds of media and entertainment are starting to exist outside screens, and brands, of course, want a spot.

Before streaming services launched, brands would have 30-second spots between shows and movies, but now they want to be part of the “content conversation where they want to subsidize and really have an engagement that goes beyond what a 30-second spot would be,” said Brent Montgomery, founder and CEO of Wheelhouse.

However, technology does not necessarily have to reinvent or create new business models, said Englebardt. “It’s just (about) how technology can enable what we know works to be applied,” he added.

The emergence of these technologies has also transformed news media, where non-traditional platforms such as user-generated content on Instagram and X have become news sources.

The fundamental change, Pittman said, is consumer convenience. “What people want today is have the information find me. I don’t want to go find the information,” he added.

While that can be both good and bad, media companies have to think about “chasing the consumer, as opposed to expecting them to come to you,” Pittman said.

It is becoming harder to distinguish between real and fake content, leading to a point where audiences will have to presume that everything they watch and hear is fake, said Englebardt.

That, however, is the advantage of news brands, because they are well-trusted and audiences can rely on them to vet the information and present genuine news, said Pittman.

In order to maintain that trust, news brands “will have to forego the clickbait business model and opportunity to monetize fake news,” said Englebardt. 

Pittman said: “Clickbait is directly related to lack of trust. The more clickbait, the less trusted.” As such, businesses have to choose whether they want to get more clicks and be less trusted, or have fewer clicks and be more trusted, he concluded.

 


Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website

Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website
Updated 23 February 2024
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Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website

Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website
  • Company is ‘no longer cost-effective and will transition to studio model’: CEO 
  • Unclear how decision will impact group’s presence in Riyadh

LONDON: Vice Media is set to lay off hundreds of staff and discontinue publication on its website.

An internal memo leaked to the media and later confirmed by Vice CEO Bruce Dixon said that the layoffs would begin early next week.

Dixon announced on Friday that the company is transitioning to a “studio model,” in a decision that was “not made lightly.” Affected employees will be “notified about next steps early next week.”

The decision is a result of Vice Media’s digital content distribution no longer being cost-effective, Dixon said.

The outlet will “look to partner with established media companies to distribute our digital content, including news, on their global platforms, as we fully transition to a studio model,” he added.

Dixon said that Refinery29, a Vice-owned women’s lifestyle-focused site, will continue to operate independently.

“Our financial partners are supportive and have agreed to invest in this operating model going forward. We will emerge stronger and more resilient as we embark on this new phase of our journey,” he added.

Reports of the layoffs come less than a year after Vice Media, whose assets include Vice News, Motherboard, Refinery29, i-D and Vice TV, was rescued from bankruptcy by a consortium of buyers from Fortress Investment Group.

Dixon said that the group is in “advance discussions” to sell its business and expects to “announce more on that in the coming weeks.”

Valued at $5.7 billion in 2017, Vice, once a prominent media company geared toward a younger audience, operated digital, television and film outlets.

In January last year, the media group announced the opening of a new regional office in Riyadh in an effort to expand its presence in the Middle East.

It remains unclear how the layoffs will impact the group’s presence in the Middle East. Experts say that the company employs about 900 people across all divisions.


Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics

Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics
Updated 24 February 2024
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Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics

Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics
  • European Broadcasting Union assessing whether ‘October Rain’ breaches guidelines on political neutrality
  • There have been protests over Israel’s participation in various European countries

LONDON: Israel has threatened to pull out of the Eurovision Song Contest after organizers said they were assessing the lyrics of its entry for political messages.

The song, “October Rain,” is set to be performed by singer Eden Golan at the event in Sweden in May.

It features references to the victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, including the lyrics “they were all good children, each one of them,” according to Israel Hayom newspaper.

The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the event, said in a statement: “The EBU is currently in the process of scrutinizing the lyrics, a process which is confidential between the EBU and the broadcaster until a final decision has been taken.

“If a song is deemed unacceptable for any reason, broadcasters are then given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics.”

In response, Israel’s national broadcaster KAN, which oversaw the process of selecting the entry and will show the contest in Israel, said: “It should be noted that as far as the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation is concerned there is no intention to replace the song.

“This means that if it is not approved by the European Broadcasting Union, Israel will not be able to participate in the competition, which will take place in Sweden next May.”

KAN confirmed that the lyrics published by Israel Hayom are correct, calling the song a “moving and powerful ballad.”

It also published other lyrics, including the lines “Who told you boys don’t cry / Hours and hours / And flowers / Life is not a game for the cowards,” which Israel Hayom said is a reference to Israeli soldiers. 

KAN said Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar had written to the EBU to insist the song’s lyrics be approved, adding that “Israel is in one of its most complex periods, and that this fact cannot be ignored when choosing a song to represent it.”

On X, Zohar said: “The song of Israel, which will be performed by Eden Golan, is a moving song, which expresses the feelings of the people and the country these days, and is not political."

He said any decision to disqualify “October Rain” would be “scandalous.”

“We all hope that Eurovision will remain a musical and cultural event and not a political arena — where the participating countries can bring their uniqueness and nationalism to the stage through music.

“I call on the European Broadcasting Union to continue to act professionally and neutrally, and not to let politics affect art.”

Several protests about Israel’s participation, including in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, have been raised, while Iceland’s Association of Composers and Lyricists said the war in Gaza made Israel’s entry “incompatible” with the spirit of the contest.

The annual Eurovision contest has been won four times by Israel, where it is popular and often viewed as a barometer of the country’s standing internationally.

In the past, the EBU has forced the altering of lyrics over politics. In 2009, Georgia withdrew from the contest over its song’s overt references to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia was itself excluded from the contest in 2022 following its invasion of Ukraine, which went on to win Eurovision that year.

Noel Curran, director general of the EBU, said: “Comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult and, as a non-political media organization, not ours to make.”

He added: “The EBU is aligned with other international organizations, including sports unions and federations and other international bodies, that have similarly maintained their inclusive stance towards Israeli participants in major competitions at this time.”

(With Reuters)

 


Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy

Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy
Updated 22 February 2024
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Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy

Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy
  • New committee for press freedoms established
  • 100-day plan endorsed, several proposals to start immediately

RIYADH: The Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board approved on Wednesday an executive strategy which will see several new committees established and a number of proposals fast tracked over the next 100 days.

The move came during the board’s second meeting, led by Adhwan Al-Ahmari, the association’s chairman, which took place on the sidelines of the Saudi Media Forum, held at the Riyadh Hilton Hotel.

Newly established dedicated committees will oversee the implementation of the association’s approved plan. These include an Executive Committee, responsible for setting interim targets and addressing urgent issues, and the Review and Performance Committee, tasked with monitoring performance, assessing committee effectiveness, and ensuring target fulfillment.

The Press Freedoms Committee will establish frameworks, implement plans, and collaborate with international media organizations to safeguard press freedoms.

In order to provide the association with a more robust foundation for its operations, the board has also decided to form a Committee for Developing Financial Resources, which will explore methods to generate income and ensure sustainability.

The Members and Relations Committee will manage the members’ affairs, while the Training Committee is tasked with crafting short-term and long-term training programs, as well as fostering partnerships with local and international universities and training centers.

The Events Committee will create executive plans for the association’s events and will develop a standardized criteria for internal and external activities, while the Content Committee is responsible for establishing a comprehensive editorial policy for all postings, as well as overseeing and improving the association’s website.

The board of directors endorsed a 100-day plan for the implementation of all proposals. The plan will be revised during the board’s next meeting.

The meeting of the board also discussed forming a club for journalists, which will be headquartered in Riyadh and operated by the association.

The board examined legal protection for media workers who are members of the association, in line with its regulations.

The board members emphasized the significance of expanding membership to include media students and trainees, providing them with a special membership to learn from professional journalists.

The meeting also discussed securing funding sources and establishing governance for the association’s fund for supporting journalists.


Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC

Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC
Updated 22 February 2024
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Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC

Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC
  • Hasan will be regular commentator with first column Wednesday urging US president to end Gaza ‘genocide’
  • MSNBC cancelled ‘The Mehdi Hasan Show’ in January amid widespread criticisms

LONDON: Former MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan is moving to The Guardian US following his sudden exit from the network last month.

The British-American writer and broadcaster, known for his award-winning work, will be a regular columnist for the American online presence of the British newspaper.

Its US editor, Betsy Reed, said Hasan’s addition would enhance the publication’s political commentary, advocacy for human rights and free speech, and accountability for those in power.

Hasan’s debut column, published on Wednesday, urged American President Joe Biden to pressure the Israeli government to end what he described as the “genocide” of Palestinians in Gaza.

Hasan said: “I have been poring over columns in The Guardian since I was a teenager. Now I get to write some of my own, in what is perhaps one of the busiest and biggest news years of my lifetime. It’s a huge honor and a privilege.”

The move came after Hasan’s MSNBC “The Mehdi Hasan Show” was abruptly cancelled by the network. While his programs did not always draw large audiences on MSNBC, his passionate monologues and incisive interviews earned him a significant online following, often leading to viral clips.

The timing of the show’s cancellation raised eyebrows, coinciding with Hasan’s criticism of Israel’s actions during its conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Media analysts and fellow journalists have raised concerns that ending Hasan’s show had left American audiences without a crucial voice in the corporate news landscape during times of ongoing conflict.

The Guardian US has been expanding its team, adding prominent columnists and an investigative unit, reflecting the growing interest in British media among American audiences.