Sheikh Jarrah: Facebook and Twitter systematically silencing protests, deleting evidence

Facebook and Twitter are systematically silencing users protesting and documenting the evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. We demand Facebook and Twitter to immediately stop these takedowns, reinstate affected content and accounts, and provide a clear and public explanation for why the content was removed. 

In the past days, people have taken to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to document and denounce Israeli police brutality and violent attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinian activists and residents who are peacefully protesting against the imminent threat of being evicted from their homes. 

In a rapid escalation, hundreds of posts and accounts documenting these violations, have been deleted on Instagram and Twitter. The scale of these content takedowns and account suspensions reported by users and documented by digital rights organizations is egregious and pronounced. 

Facebook and Twitter have not provided any explanation to their users for these actions. Instagram, for instance, has removed hundreds of stories related to Sheikh Jarrah including archived posts. The platforms’ arbitrary and non-transparent decisions constitute a serious violation of Palestinians’ fundamental rights including their right to freedom of expression, and their right to freedom of association and assembly online, which both Facebook and Twitter have pledged to honor in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Though work is being done to escalate these cases with Facebook and Twitter, timing is critical- users from Sheikh Jarrah have made it clear that without the world’s attention they would be in even more danger. We demand Facebook and Twitter to immediately stop censoring and reinstate the accounts and content of Palestinian voices. These companies must open an investigation into these takedowns, and transparently and publicly share the investigations.

The removed content and suspended accounts on both Instagram and Twitter are involved in documenting and reporting what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah, as well as denouncing Israel’s policies of ethnic cleansing, apartheid and persecution. These violations are not limited to Palestinian users, but also affect activists around the world who are using social media to raise awareness about the grave situation in Sheikh Jarrah. 

This latest spate of content takedowns is part of a wider pattern of consistent censorship of Palestinian and allied voices and systematic efforts to silence them, which civil society organizations have documented for years. Similar past cases related to takedown of Palestinian speech on these platforms have been attributed to requests by Israel’s Cyber Unit, an internet referral unit whose mission is to submit ’voluntary’ requests to social media companies for content removal. 

The content coming from Sheikh Jarrah illustrates the sheer number and severity of human rights violations requiring digital documentation and media awareness. Social media platforms provide a crucial space for communities with no other recourse to make their demands for freedom, justice and dignity heard. Online spaces should be available for organizations, activists and human rights defenders to expose and document the human rights violations on the ground. This can only work when platforms build transparent and coherent content moderation policies based on international human rights standards, and apply them in a consistent, transparent and equitable way.

We, the undersigned organizations, urgently call on Facebook and Twitter to:

  • Immediately open an investigation into those cases, as well as transparently and publicly share reasons behind takedown of accounts and posts related to Sheikh Jarrah;
  • Immediately reinstate all accounts and content currently taken offline in breach of international standards on freedom of expression;
  • Provide transparency on the decision-making processes involved in content takedowns related to Palestine;
  • Publicly commit to resist government and court orders in breach of international standards on freedom of expression;
  • Publish detailed data on requests submitted by the Israeli Cyber Unit including numbers of complaints received, content removal, account suspensions and other content restrictions, together with details on the category of content that was removed and/or reinstated.
  • Commit to the baseline principles set forth in the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation.

7amleh
SMEX
Access Now
Action Center on Race & the Economy (ACRE)
ARTICLE 19
Center for Constitutional Rights
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Free Speech on Israel
Friends of Sabeel North America
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Independent Jewish Voices (Canada)
INSMnetwork – Iraq
Jewish Network for Palestine
Jewish Voice for Peace
JOSA
Kandoo
Masaar-Technology and Law Community
MediaJustice
MILEN – Media and Information Literacy Expert Network
Mnemonic
MPower Change
National Students for Justice in Palestine
Palestine Legal
Pen Iraq
Privacy Network
Ranking Digital Rights
Taraaz
The National Lawyers Guild
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
United Methodists’ Holy Land Task Force
Fight for the Future

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SMEX

SMEX is a registered Lebanese NGO that works to advance self-regulating information societies in the Middle East and North Africa.