Instagram has removed the posts and blocked the hashtags on one of Islam’s hottest flies because its content moderation system has wrongly associated the site with a designation that society reserves for terrorist organizations, according to internal employee communications seen by BuzzFeed News. The error is just the latest failure of content moderation by Instagram and its parent company Facebook, which has faced accusations from users around the world that it is censored content on Israeli aggression towards the Palestinians.
The error, which was marked internally by dissident officials on Tuesday, caused Instagram to remove or block posts with hashtags for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site of the Islamic faith. Since Friday, the mosque has been open meeting place between Israeli and Palestinian police forces, many of whom had visited the site to pray during the last days of Ramadan.
In an attempt to draw attention to the violence, Instagram users posted videos tagged with the hashtag #AlAqsa or their Arab counterparts # الاقصى or # الأقصى, only to find that their posts had been abandoned or hidden by search results. Some notifications have shown that Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, removed posts because they were associated with “violence or dangerous organizations.” When employees learned of the transfers and the justification behind it, some filed internal complaints.
In one case, an employee saw that Instagram had removed an infographic describing the situation in Al-Aqsa, because of its association with “violence or a terrorist organization”. After the employee filed a complaint, they wrote in an internal post, they were informed that the image was abandoned “based on a reference to“ alaqsa ”which is a designated organization,” a Facebook term referring to to “dangerous individuals and organizations. “(The content was eventually restored after the complaint.)
“All these mistakes and many others are completely unacceptable,” the Facebook employee wrote on an internal communication platform Tuesday. “Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam and is a central aspect of the faith for about 1.8 billion people.”
Facebook’s censorship of posts about Al-Aqsa comes during a period of extreme tension and violence in the region. So far 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 broke out last week. As people have used Instagram and Facebook to spread information from the ground – from the forced eviction of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah’s East Jerusalem district to the violence in Al-Aqsa – some have found their posts blocked or removed.
For critics and even some employees, Facebook’s recent content moderation failures are evidence of the lack of understanding and resources of American society in the region, and show how even neglected mistakes can have an excessive impact when its products are used by more than 3 billion people around the world.
Facebook has said it before Middle East National News that posts with the hashtags Al-Aqsa “were restricted by mistake,” but an internal post obtained by BuzzFeed News on Wednesday went further, noting that the content was removed because Al-Aqsa “is also the name of an organization sanctioned by the United States Government. “
A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment beyond what was in Wednesday’s internal post.
Last week, Palestinian Instagram users also complained that Instagram stories, or ephemeral videos and images that last 24 hours on the platform, over the conflict were also deleted. On Friday, the company attributed that mistake to a bug on the social network that affected users sharing stories around the world.
These errors have sparked reflection among some Facebook employees. In a post over the weekend, an employee wrote in an internal group that “the external perception is that FB silently silences political discourse and apologizes afterwards.”
“Some of these incidents are human review errors and others are automated and I am not familiar with which is more prevalent but why decision makers cannot use local experience in the [Middle East and North Africa] regions such as Public Policy or Comms and consult with them before making the decision to remove sensitive hashtags or political content, ”they wrote, before sharing screenshots of several users complaining that their Instagram posts have been censored. Instagram users around the world had started a campaign to give low 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 had teams “sorting and unblocking any issues as they emerge.”
This effort, however, has not prevented the continued removal of content on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where the conflict began last Friday when Israeli police stormed the Palestinians. who had reunited to be observed on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Complaints about content censorship with the hashtags Al-Aqsa continued on Tuesday, when the employee concerned reported the wrong removal of a post.
While there is an armed Palestinian coalition in the West Bank known as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade that has been considered a terrorist entity by the United States and the European Union, and by other organizations of the same name as at the Al-Aqsa Foundation they are considered part of their support network by the US government, The critical Facebook employee said there was no excuse to censor the hashtag of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“If there was a designated group that called for Washington’s problems and posts that simply mentioned that the word Washington had been dropped, it would have been unacceptable,” they wrote. “I really want to emphasize that this part of our user base already feels alienated and censored and after having so many issues like these – be it technical or product-based – our users won’t give us the benefit of the doubt. . “
On Wednesday, an employee of the political team of Dangerous Organizations and Individuals of the society wrote in his internal post that the term Al-Aqsa (الأقصى) “should not and does not violate our policies”.
“As many of you have pointed out, simply using the same name as a designated organization does not make the place and organization the same,” they wrote. “Our policies do not call for the relocation of people, places or things that simply share a name with a designated organization – so any relocation based solely on a mention of the mosque’s name is certainly a mistake. application and would never have happened under our policies ”.
Others were less confident in Facebook’s internal explanation. Ashraf Zeitoon, who served as Facebook’s chief policy officer for the Middle East and North Africa region from 2014 to mid-2017, said the company has employed some of the best terrorism experts in the world who could certainly distinguish mentions of Al-Aqsa from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
“For them to go and identify a word of a two-word name as associated with a terrorist organization is a lame excuse,” he said, noting that he was involved in policy-making on how the company has designated terrorist groups and their content. “They’re more qualified than that and more competent than that.”
Zeitoon cited an internal fear on Facebook of undermining Israeli interests and over-declaring content as potential reasons for Al-Aqsa videos and images to be removed.
In response, a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that Al-Aqsa content was limited due to human error, and not because of government requests.
The removal and blocking of Facebook of some Palestinian content has made social media employees talk. Ahead of a regular society meeting Thursday that is scheduled to be chaired by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, some workers began voting on a demand that asked, “Our integrity systems fail marginalized groups (see: Palestine, BLM, Women) native). What are we going to do about it? “
The question is low on the list of first questions, behind at least three different questions about Facebook’s work-from-home policies and whether Mark Zuckerberg will ever agree. Saturday Night Live, after an appearance by Tesla CEO Elon Musk at the variety show last week.
In another question, an employee asked if Facebook would move its regional office from Tel Aviv, which some Palestinian-American employees cannot access due to Israeli restrictions. Noting that Human Rights Watch had designated Israel as a state of apartheid, have questioned whether Facebook will ever reconsider its position in the Israeli city.
A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on the matter.