Instagram took over the posts and blocked hashtags about one of the holiest mosques in Islam because the moderation system in this case mistakenly associated the site with a name provided by the company for terrorist organizations, consistent with internal employee communications seen by BuzzFeed News. The mistake is the latest failure to moderate content on Instagram and its company Facebook, which has faced accusations from users around the world that it is censored content about the invasion of Israel of the Palestinians.
The mistake, flagged by rioted employees on Tuesday, caused Instagram to remove or block posts with hashtags for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place of the Islamic faith. Since Friday, the mosque has been location in clashes among Israeli police forces and Palestinians, most of them visited the area to pray in the last days of Ramadan.
In an effort to draw attention to the violence, Instagram users posted videos tagged with the hashtag #AlAqsa or the Arab equivalents # الاقصى or # الأقصى, only to find out that their posts removed or hidden from search results. Some announcements indicate that Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, removed the posts because they were linked to “violent or dangerous organizations.” If employees are aware of the layoffs and the reason behind them, some submit internal complaints.
In one case, an employee saw that Instagram had taken an infographic describing the situation in Al-Aqsa, because of its links to “violence or a terrorist organization.” After filing a staff complaint, they wrote an insider post, informing them that the image was taken “in accordance with the reference to‘ alaqsa ’being a designated organization,” a Facebook term meaning in “dangerous individuals and organizations. ”(The content was later restored after the complaint.)
“Both of these mistakes and many others are never acceptable,” the Facebook employee wrote on an internal communications platform on Tuesday. “Al-Aqsa is the 3rd holiest place in Islam and it is the central aspect of faith for about 1.8 billion people.”
Facebook’s censorship of posts about Al-Aqsa comes at a time of intense tension and violence in the region. Until now 53 Palestinians, including more than a dozen children, and six Israelis have been killed, and more than 300 people have been injured since the fighting began last week. Like people using Instagram and Facebook to spread information from the ground – from the forced eviction of Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah to the violence in Al -Aqsa – others have found their post blocked or deleted.
For critics and even some employees, the latest failure to hit Facebook’s content is evidence of the American company’s lack of understanding and resources in the region, and shows how even the negligent mistakes can have an outsize effect if its products are used by more than 3 billion people around. the world.
Said before on Facebook The National Middle East news outlet that posts with the Al-Aqsa hashtags are “error-suppressed,” but an internal post obtained by BuzzFeed News on Wednesday went on, saying the content was removed because Al-Aqsa “is also name of an organization authorized by the United States Government. “
A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment further on what was in Wednesday’s content post.
Last week, Palestinian Instagram users also complained that Instagram stories, or ephemeral videos and images that last 24 hours on the platform, were also removed about the conflict. On Friday, the company attributed that error to a social network bug that affected users chatting around the world.
Those are the mistakes that have provoked some Facebook staff. In a post over the weekend, an employee wrote to an insider group that “the outside mindset is to remind FB of the right time to speak out politics and apologize later.”
“Some of the incidents are human error reviews and others are automatic and I’m not familiar with which is more common but why decision makers can’t have local expertise in [Middle East and North Africa] regions such as Public Policy or Comms and consult with them before making a decision to remove sensitive hashtags or political content, ”they wrote, before sharing screenshots with various users complaining that their Instagram posts are censored. They also acknowledge that Instagram users around the world have started a campaign to give poor ratings to Instagram apps in the Google Play store.
In response, Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, wrote a day later that the company has teams that “test and block any issues as they come up.”
That effort, however, has not prevented the continued crackdown on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where the conflict began on Friday when Israeli police attacked Palestinians. who gathers to observe the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Complaints about content censorship using Al-Aqsa hashtags continued until Tuesday, when a concerned employee reported the erroneous deletion of a post.
While there is an armed Palestinian coalition in the West Bank known as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs ’Brigades which is considered a terrorist entity in the United States and European Union, and other similarly named organizations such as the Al-Aqsa Foundation considered part of its support network by the U.S. government, critical Facebook staff say it is not justified for censoring Al-Aqsa Mosque hashtags.
“If there is a designated group called the Washington mob and posts that simply mention the word that Washington has taken it may be unacceptable,” they wrote. “I really want to emphasize that this is part of our userbase feels isolated and censored and after so many issues like this – whether it’s technical or product -based – don’t give our users the benefit of the doubt. ”
On Wednesday, a staff member of the company’s Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy group wrote in their internal post that the term Al-Aqsa (الأقصى) “does not and will not violate our policies.”
“Like most of you rightly pointed out, the simple use of the same name as a designated organization does not make the place and the organization the same,” they wrote. “Our policies do not call for the removal of people, places or things that simply share a name with a designated organization – so any removal based solely on mentioning the name of the mosque is sure to implementation errors and this would never have happened under our policies. ”
Some are not yet confident in Facebook’s internal explanation. Ashraf Zeitoon, who served as Facebook’s head of policy for the Middle East and North Africa region from 2014 to mid -2017, noted that the company employs some of the world’s leading terrorism experts for sure distinguish Al-Aqsa from the Brigades of Al-Aqsa Martyrs.
“For them to go and get to know the one -word one two -word association with a terrorist organization is a crippling excuse,” he said, citing that he was involved in formulating policies on how to teach of corporate terrorist groups and their content. “They’re more qualified than this and more capable than this.”
Zeitoon cited an insider fear on Facebook that angered Israeli interests and over-reporting of the insider as potential reasons why Al-Aqsa videos and images were taken.
In response, a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the Al-Aqsa incident was curtailed because of human error, and not because of any government request.
The removal and blocking of Facebook of some Palestinian content caused social network employees to speak out on the issue. Ahead of a regular company-wide meeting on Thursday expected to be headed by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, some workers began to raise a question asking, What are we going to do about it? ”
The question is short on the list of top questions, behind at least three different work policy questions from home on Facebook and one wondering if Mark Zuckerberg will host Saturday Night Live, after the appearance of Tesla CEO Elon Musk at the variety show last weekend.
In another question, an employee asked if Facebook would move its regional office from Tel Aviv, which would not be accessible to some Palestinian American employees due to Israeli bans. Noted that Human Rights Watch has points to Israel as an apartheid state, they asked if Facebook would also consider its location in the Israeli city.
A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on it.