Managing the social media revolution – Facebook bans Palestinian page
There have been a few posts cropping up these last few months on how social media sites are dealing with controversial content that is coming out of the uprisings in the Middle East be it graphic in nature or highly partisan. It is a tricky issue.
Of all the topics in the Middle East right now there has never been one that is more combustible than Israel. Now Facebook has bowed to complaints from Israeli government officials and Jewish groups in the US and taken down a group run by Palestinian supporters.
The group was taken down for good reason as many of those who joined it called for violence against Jews and an uprising against Israel.
The group, ‘Third Palestinian Intifada’, started out earlier this month as one calling for peaceful protests in the Palestinian territories on May 15. The information on the page said: “After the Tunisian intifada and the Egyptian intifada and the Libyan intifada comes the Palestinian intifada”.
While the group initially moderated comments that called for violence against Israel, as pages/posts concerning Israel always do, as the group grew to more than 340,000 members things started to change. The group started to fill-up with endless comments and videos calling for the killing of Israelis and Jews.
According to the New York Times Facebook began monitoring the page after numerous complaints including one from Israeli public diplomacy and diaspora affairs minister Yuli Edelstein to Mark Zuckerberg.
“As Facebook’s CEO and founder you are obviously aware of the site’s great potential to rally the masses around good causes, and we are all thankful for that. However, such potential comes hand in hand with the ability to cause great harm such as in the case of the wild incitement displayed on the above-mentioned page,” Edelstein wrote.
Facebook gave the administrators of the page repeated warnings to remove content, but after they failed to act Facebook rightly removed it.
Debbie Frost, a spokeswoman for Facebook, told Bloomberg: “While some kinds of comments and content may be upsetting for someone - criticism of a certain culture, country, religion, lifestyle, or political ideology, for example — that alone is not a reason to remove the discussion.
“We strongly believe that Facebook users have the ability to express their opinions, and we don’t typically take down content, groups or Pages that speak out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas.”
The row over the removal of the page highlights the fine line that social networks must walk as their platforms are used by those engaged in and organising change in the middle east. As we’ve already seen violence comes with change, but that isn’t violence against ordinary citizens or even against a democratic state. No matter how controversial some may find it.
Previously, YouTube has removed controversial videos after complaints from the community while more recently, the New York Times reported, Flickr removed photos of police officers from Egypt’s feared state security force posted by Egyptian blogger and human rights activist, Hossam el-Hamalawy, who had uploaded the headshots of the police from CDs found by activists at the State Security Police headquarters in Nasr City.
While Facebook doesn’t usually take down “content that speaks out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas” (remember last year’s ‘Draw Mohammed Day‘ group on Facebook?), but it should not be a place where one group of people can call for the murder of another.
No one wants to see peaceful discussion about peace in the Middle East closed down, not before and not now, but the problem with so many groups/pages about the the future of the Palestinian territories is that they get hi-jacked by extremists, be they Islamic or the left, who are only interested in stoking anti-Semitism and hate.