SILENCING PALESTINIAN CONTENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA
A film by Abdelmonem Mohamed,Dima Teeti, Laura Kübler,Canan Fedrowitz, Humaid AlAufi
Start Scenes of the movie:
Social media has become a very important news source for Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Especially young citizens gather information online.
Among the social media platforms, Facebook is the most popular. More than one million Palestinians have a Facebook profile.
Social media is seen as a tool for freedom of expression. Palestinian activists and social rights defenders use social media for sharing their opinion and organizing political events.
But Israeli policies made it very hard for Palestinian activists to express their opinions online. Especially content that informs about human rights violations by Israel and harms Israeli authorities is being removed.
The suppression of online political opinions increases the tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A Facebook post can cause an imprisonment.
Interview with Wedad Al-Barghouthi- Palestinian Journalism Professor at Birzeit University:
“I am a doctor at Birzeit University. I hold a doctorate in journalism and media. At first, my son participated in an operation – or at least he was accused of that. To put pressure on him during his arrest I and my oldest son were also arrested. The actual captivity period lasted for sixteen days. I was in isolation and I was interrogated more than once. During the interrogation my hands were tied back and my legs were tied to the chair. I was not only asked questions, it was more than an investigation. I was subject to attacks, insults, humiliation, ridicule and was criminalized. They told me that we Palestinians are the criminals and that we do not own any land in this country. The interrogators also told me that they are the ones who would teach us democracy and life. They claimed that we are the ones coming from the desert and not them. I was in isolation in a room where I did not see anyone except the policemen and policewomen. They only came to inspect, count the prisoners, or bring a meal, which was very small and of bad quality. In addition to that I was in a remote prison within the 48 lands (Hashron Prison) which is a private prison for civilians, criminals, and drug addicts. I was isolated in a room at the end of the corridor. We were there in September and the room was very hot. I could not properly breathe, I had no fresh air, there was nothing in this room at all. Even having a toothbrush was suspicious to them. When they found another toothbrush apart from the one I used it was strange for them and required further inspection. Only in the police investigation session they told me that the arrest happened because of my Facebook profile. They had collected about 30 posts from my personal Facebook page and interrogated me about these posts. Of course, I did not answer, except that I am a writer and I have the right to express my opinion. Of course, people are accustomed to social media, especially the younger generation. They believe it is a wide space for freedom and that a person can say what he/she wants online. But it became clear from my experience and from others that social media as a whole is nothing more than a platform to spread information and often people publish information that is not even necessary to be published. What I mean is, there are always receivers who analyze and interpret these posts, often to the disadvantage of the publisher. These posts can then be used against the publisher. In this way new accusations against Palestinians emerge. A simple post can cause a lot of damage. When I was arrested, I was 61 years old, meaning I was the oldest Palestinian captive in the history of the occupation. This is what the lawyers said in the courts and outside the courts: You are a convicted writer, an academic and a 61-year-old woman who suffers from many diseases and health problems. Nevertheless, there was no consideration for this issue. On the contrary at the end of the session the intelligence investigator told me, that she would go home to rest, while I – in gods will- would die here in order to learn a lesson and teach it to your students, about how we are treated. She said: I will learn you a new lesson that you will incite to your students too, then she closed the door and left…”
Interview with Yasmeen Iraqi – Fundraising coordinator at 7amleh- the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media:
“The Palestinian struggle is one, that has spent many decades and what we have seen over the past couple of years is, that the fight has shifted from the streets to the online spaces as well. This is especially true with the Millennial and Gen Z generations and so the discourse has really shifted from the physical space to the digital space. And so because the discourse has shifted the people who are against the Palestinian struggle and the Palestinian fight have also taken their fight online as well. We saw that the Israeli Government and the Israeli authorities have really taken this fight to the online space by deleting Palestinian content. Things like arrests, violence towards protesters, what’s happening in (8:47) things like bombing and whatever stuff like that. This is a very organized effort, the Israeli Ministry of justice has a cyber unit that has been reporting tens of thousands of cases to the social media networks sides, like Facebook. In doing so they are effectively silencing and quieting down the Palestinian activists, who are trying really hard to get the message outside, especially to the international world. And I think it’s very important to know that the reason that the content is being removed is because it’s working and Governments and Social Media platforms while they are fighting against it are not able to keep it silenced because it really is an effective way of protest. And so, I believe that Palestinians should continue to use their voices online and to look for ways to protect themselves online. 7amleh has been at the forefront at the struggle of bringing Palestinian digital rights into public awareness. This is also done through training and workshops. What we saw is that there were over five hundreds, six hundreds reports of people having their content taken down or their account just completely removed and there was no space for them to be able to report these things, in order to continue protesting. And so, we created this data base called the 7or-data base. This data base has provided a space for Palestinians to report any digital violation that they encounter. I think that organizations like 7amleh and other organizations who work within the scope of digital rights are really fighting to protect Palestinian Digital rights and to make sure that people are save online.”
End scenes of the movie:
Since 2015, after the Palestinian uprising, a large quantity of political content was taken down from social media platforms. The Israeli Ministry of Justice founded a “Cyber Unit” which reports critical posts of Palestinians to social media companies with the request to delete them.
Content that reports human rights violations by the Israeli government as well as critical voices of Palestinian activists are shut down under the guise of hate speech.
The term “hate speech” is interpreted in various ways, so that content that criticizes the Israeli government can be labeled as “hate speech”.
To label political content which negatively affects Israeli authorities as hate speech is a strategic way to have even more posts removed. Palestinian activists can even be classified as terrorists.
As a consequence of this method, only between the years 2017 and 2018 Facebook, Twitter and Google deleted 27,000 posts after an inquiry by the Israeli Ministry of Justice.
Government-operated organizations also use so called “trolls” to manipulate online content. Online trolls are used to silence posts that are critical towards Israel and to spread disinformation among Palestinians.
Very Last Scenes:
All these tactics and regulations can cause self-censorship among Palestinian activists. This can lead to a ‘chilling effect’, which implies that more and more people practice self-censorship.
Palestinians’ digital rights are being violated and silenced, which not only prevents Palestinians from exercising their right to free expression online, but also puts them in danger offline.
Additional information that did not make it into the movie:
Furthermore, community guidelines of social media networks make it difficult for users to post political content. YouTube, for example, contains the regulation that violent content infringes the guidelines. But the definition of “violent content” is very unclear, so that many political activists must face the fact that their content is being removed.
This is very tragic because YouTube is the second most popular platform in Palestine and human right defenders use it to generate public awareness on certain topics and to pressure responsible forces.
Another big issue is the underrepresentation of Palestine on the largest and most powerful digital geographic map: Google Maps. In late 2016 Google Maps temporary deleted the words “Gaza” and “West Bank” from their platform and changed them into the general term ‘Israel’. This led to the viral hashtag #PalestineIsHere. Google officially apologized for the removal and claimed it was a technical fault.
However numerous Palestinian villages are misrepresented or missing on Google Maps. In addition, military checkpoints and restricted roads for Palestinians are not clearly pointed out for Palestinians which can cause real danger for people. Thus, Google Maps does not align with human rights standards and supports the Israeli narrative.
Barghouthi, W. (2022). Interview with the Palestinian journalism professor at Birzeit University [Interview].
Cresci, E. (2017). Google Maps accused of deleting Palestine – but the truth is more complicated. The Guardian. Retrieved 16. January 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/aug/10/google-maps-accused-remove-palestine
Iraqi, Y. (2022). Interview with the Fundraising Coordinator at 7amleh [Interview].
Dewey, C. (2016). Google Maps did not ‘delete’ Palestine — but it does impact how you see it. Washington Post. Retrieved 16. February 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/08/09/google-maps-did-not-delete-palestine-but-it-does-impact-how-you-see-it/
Khalil, Z. & Zayad, A. (2015). Freedom of Expression and Social Media in Palestine. Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture, 21(2). Retrieved 13. February 2022, from https://web.p.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=76656cb5-365d-4208-bd88-58262c1054ec%40redis&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=116290523&db=bsu
Nazzal, D. A. (2020). Are YouTube’s policies biased towards palestinians? 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media. Retrieved 28. January 2022, from https://7amleh.org/storage/Youtube_0420_English%20(4).pdf
Patel, Y. (2021). ‘It is a Nakba’: Campaign to save Sheikh Jarrah builds momentum as forced displacement looms. Mondoweiss. Retrieved am 8. February 2022, from https://mondoweiss.net/2021/04/it-is-a-nakba-campaign-to-save-sheikh-jarrah-builds-momentum-as-forced-displacement-looms/
Shtaya, M. (2020). Systematic Efforts to Silence Palestinian Content On Social Media. 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media. Retrieved 18. January 2022, from https://7amleh.org/storage/Research%20and%20Position%20Papers/Systematic%20Efforts%20to%20Silence%20Palestinian%20Content%20On%20Social%20Media.pdf