Posted by Guest on November 02, 2016 in Blog

By Manel Zitoun

With the world becoming increasingly interconnected via social media, the censorship of social content is coming under scrutiny, particularly on Facebook. 

According to Facebook’s community standards, “People use Facebook to share their experiences and to raise awareness about issues that are important to them. This means that you may encounter opinions that are different from yours, which we believe can lead to important conversations about difficult topics.” This is why Facebook is now under fire for their apparent censorship of grassroots social movements like Black Lives Matter and the Dakota Access Pipeline protestors.

Facebook has become an important media hub for citizen journalism, so its decision to take down content has serious implications. Censorship by Facebook may hinder activists from sharing important developments, or hyper local news normally ignored by the national media. For example, the Unicorn Riot is a group of Native American and other activists protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Their efforts have largely been overlooked by mainstream media so they turned to broadcasting their activities on social platforms like Facebook to get their message out. However, on September 14, 2016 Facebook reportedly removed videos of mass arrests during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. The company later claimed is was a mistake but the incident raises serious questions. Recently Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, spoke at a Rome University to reiterate that Facebook is not a media company. Based on that reasoning, Facebook should not edit stories and content, like the Dakota Pipeline protests, unless it clearly violates community standards. 

Facebook’s community standards seem to create a solid framework for acceptable content, which is why many are questioning another recent shut down of seven Palestinian journalists for “violating community guidelines.” The timing of the shutdown occurred after Facebook executives met with Israeli officials over content standards. Israel has been pressuring the company to remove content it believes “incites violence.” Although Facebook again said it made a mistake in removing the content and reinstated the accounts, it caused many Palestinians to distrust Facebook’s actions. The Quds News Network and other publications initiated #FBCensorsPalestine to share their concerns over what they believe was censorship. Activists argue that “when they post material meant to critique occupation, Israel sees it as encouraging violence.” In a recent interview with Reuters, Senior Facebook executives discussed policy updates about content removals, emphasizing the fact they will start “weighing news value more heavily in deciding whether to block content.”

Facebook is expected to host an open platform of free speech to provide information that is not provided by the media, but if they continue to censor postings like footage from the Dakota Access Pipeline and Palestinian journalism, how will this information be relayed to the public? Facebook has to do better in allowing activists to post their information freely online, despite outside political pressure. 

Manel Zitoun is a Fall 2016 Intern at the Arab American Institute.