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Israel-Palestine war: Instagram users accuse platform of suppressing content

Thousands of users, including journalists, claim their posts on the situation in Palestine, or supportive of the Palestinian cause, are being restricted
According to several high profile Instagram users, including journalists, their accounts were shadowbanned after posting content about the war in Gaza (Reuters/File photo)

Thousands of Instagram users have accused the social media platform of purposefully suppressing pro-Palestine content, claiming their posts on the conflict in Gaza did not breach the company's rules.

Social media users said messages of support for Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom have been displaced, injured or killed by Israeli air strikes, were being hidden. Some also reported that Facebook suppressed accounts that called for peaceful protests.

Meta, which owns the two social networks, said that some posts were hidden because of a technical bug.

Fatima Bhutto, a prominent Pakistani writer and the niece of late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, also accused Instagram of "locking people out" of comments below her posts.

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British comedian Guz Khan also took to the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, to complain that he had been shadow-banned on Instagram.

Middle East Eye, which is a verified news website on Instagram, also received a significant drop in the number of views on its stories - a type of Instagram post.

Instagram has previously denied the existence of "shadow-banning," which refers to users' posts being restricted because they could be inappropriate, or in violation of the company's guidelines. 

According to New York Times investigative reporter Azmat Khan, her Instagram account was shadow-banned after she posted an Instagram story about the war in Gaza.

"Many colleagues and [journalist] friends have reported the same," she said.

Smaller accounts also said they were being targeted, with thousands of Instagram users taking to X and other social media platforms to report instances where they were reportedly restricted.

Meta denies censorship

On Monday, Meta blamed the issue on a technical bug, claiming that "this bug affected accounts equally around the globe and had nothing to do with the subject matter of the content - and we fixed it as quickly as possible."

But the Hampton Institute think tank accused Instagram and Facebook of "actively blocking posts about the *factual* history of Israel/Palestine."

MEE asked Meta what steps were being taken to ensure access to Palestine-related content and whether the company was suppressing pro-Palestinian content, but was referred to a 13 October Newsroom Post.

The statement says that Meta's policies are applied equally and that "there is no truth to the suggestion that we are deliberately suppressing voice."

Hours after Hamas launched its surprise assault on Israel on 7 October, Meta's CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted an Instagram story which described the attack as "pure evil."

''Thank you @Meta,'' the state of Israel's official account on X replied. 

Days later, the European Union industry chief Thierry Breton wrote to Zuckerberg warning him that failing to remove content that was supportive of Hamas, a proscribed Palestinian group, from Meta’s platforms would violate EU regulations.

In response, Meta said it was removing "praise and substantive support" for Hamas, which it has designated a "dangerous organisation," from its platforms.

The company also said that in the first three days after attack on Israel it had removed or marked as disturbing over 795,000 pieces of content. 

Several Instagram users took to X to share advice on avoiding being shadow-banned, with some suggesting different spellings for keywords like "Palestine."

In October 2021, Human Rights Watch accused Meta that it "wrongfully removed and suppressed content by Palestinians and their supporters, including about human rights abuses."

It also alleged that "Instagram is restricting freedom of expression on matters of public interest."

An independent review into Meta's policies during the May 2021 Israel-Palestine crisis, commissioned later that year by Meta itself, released its findings in September 2022. It identified negative "impacts on the rights of Palestinian users to freedom of expression and related rights." 

Meta has also been accused of political bias in a different context. In October 2022, MEE reported on Facebook’s operations in India which found that Meta was enforcing its rules selectively and giving preferential treatment to individuals and groups associated with the country's ruling BJP. Meta denied the claims.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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