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Tech: social media companies must stem flow of online hate over Israel/OPT crisis

People in Gaza are experiencing an increasing communications blackout © Anadolu via Getty Images

Significant number of social media posts have glorified Israeli authorities’ attacks on civilians in Gaza, while antisemitic hate has proliferated on X

Palestinian accounts and advocates of Palestinian rights subject to ‘shadow bans’ and over-enforcement by content moderators

‘Content moderation must be conducted in a manner ensuring respect for the right to freedom of expression’ - Rasha Abdul-Rahim

Social media companies must urgently address the fanning of online hate and racism against Palestinian and Jewish communities, Amnesty International said today, as the conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories continues to escalate. 

Amnesty has found an alarming rise in the advocacy of hatred constituting incitement to violence, hostility and discrimination on social media platforms - which is prohibited under international human rights law - as well as other harmful content against Palestinian and Jewish people. 

Amnesty has also documented concerning reports that content posted by Palestinians and advocates of Palestinian rights are being subject to potentially discriminatory content moderation by social media platforms. Amnesty also found that a significant number of social media posts have glorified the Israeli authorities’ attacks on civilians in Gaza, supporting the destruction of Gaza and violence against Palestinians. Many posts have used dehumanising and racist language against Palestinians, including some which clearly draw on language used by the Israeli authorities.   

Amnesty has also documented a number of antisemitic posts, many of them advocating hatred and violence against Jewish people. Previous research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate has highlighted a proliferation of antisemitic content on X in recent months. 

Since 7 October, the Palestinian NGO 7amleh’s “violence indicator” monitoring system has detected more than 493,000 cases (and increasing) of advocacy of hatred against Palestinians and advocates of Palestinian rights in Hebrew-language content on social media platforms. Israeli government and military officials have also used dehumanising language and anti-Palestinian racism. On 16 October, Benjamin Netanyahu’s X account (@IsraeliPM) issued a discriminatory post using dehumanising language, saying:

“There is a struggle between the children of light and children of darkness, between humanity and law of the jungle.”  

Similarly, in an X post on 17 October, Israel’s Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, said:

“As long as Hamas does not release the hostages in its hands - the only thing that needs to enter Gaza are hundreds of tons of explosives from the Air Force, not an ounce of humanitarian aid.”  

Amnesty has also received concerning reports indicating over-broad censorship of content from Palestinian accounts and advocates of Palestinian rights on several social media platforms. With people in Gaza experiencing an increasing communications blackout, unequal content moderation by social media platforms risks further undermining the ability of Palestinians in and outside of Gaza to exercise their rights to freedom of expression.

Amnesty is continuing to monitor instances of the wrongful blocking or removal of social media posts, as well as “shadowbanning” of accounts in the context of the current conflict. Mounting restrictions are also being placed by several authorities in the West Bank and Europe, among other places, on protests defending Palestinian human rights.

Rasha Abdul-Rahim, Director of Amnesty Tech, said:  

“As Israel intensifies its unprecedented bombardment of Gaza that has killed over 7,000 people, most of whom are civilians, we are extremely concerned by reports of partial blocking and removal - known as ‘shadowbanning’ - of content from advocates of Palestinian rights. 

“Social media can play a vital role in times of crisis for communication - as such, major social media companies need to urgently step-up measures to protect human rights. 

“The companies must ensure their platforms are not broadcasting messages of hatred and violence, or they risk contributing to gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law. 

“Content moderation must be conducted in a manner ensuring respect for the right to freedom of expression, while addressing rampant advocacy of hatred.

“Social media companies need to invest adequate resources in human oversight of AI-driven content moderation systems to ensure all users, including Palestinians, can equally exercise their rights online, regardless of language and political views.”

Over-enforcement of Arabic-language content

Research has shown that AI systems often reproduce pre-existing societal biases under a veil of neutrality. As recently as 19 October, Meta apologised for inserting the word “terrorist” into Instagram profile translations containing the words “Palestinian” and “Alhamdullilah” (Praise be to God), and the Palestinian flag emoji. The company has also reduced the threshold at which it “hides” hostile content from 80% certainty to 25% in relation to content originating in large parts of the Middle East. As an attempt to stem hostile speech Amnesty believes this could result in overbroad restrictions on content. In May 2021, a Business for Social Responsibility report revealed that Arabic-language content had greater “over-enforcement” on Meta’s platforms than other languages, including Hebrew. “False strikes” contributed to the reduced visibility and engagement of Arabic posts.  

Amnesty’s research on Myanmar has previously shown that social media algorithms designed to maximise engagement have resulted in disproportionately amplified harmful and inflammatory content, including advocacy of hatred inciting violence, hostility and discrimination.   

7 October attack and Israel’s air bombardments

On 7 October, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups flagrantly violated international law and displayed a chilling disregard for human life by carrying out cruel and brutal crimes, including mass summary killings, hostage-taking and launching indiscriminate rocket attacks into Israel. Since then, Israeli forces have launched relentless air bombardments across the Gaza Strip with cataclysmic effects. The grave humanitarian situation stemming from Israel’s 16-year-long illegal blockade has been further exacerbated by Israel’s imposition of an intensified blockade of Gaza, which has cut off people from access to food, water, fuel, electricity and communication, and amounts to the war crime of collective punishment. Even before the current crisis, Amnesty’s research found that Israel’s system of oppression and domination of Palestinians amounts to the crime against humanity of apartheid. 

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