Readers will know that I’m endlessly fascinated by secrecy, censorship and political repression: both the processes themselves and the thinking of those who implement them. That’s one of the reasons the bout of social media censorship I’ve faced is so intriguing. Why did they censor it? Not the reason they gave, but the underlying reason. Who made the decision, and was the decision influenced by an outside party? The reason all this is compelling is it helps those who fight against these evils to understand their structure and those who create it.
Access Now, is a Canadian NGO whose mission is to protect those in danger of online attack. They are also affiliated with Citizen Lab, which identifies malware used to attack human rights activists. Access Now’s helpline responded to my appeal for assistance after Twitter and Facebook punished me for publishing images of the eight Israeli commandos whose failed Gaza operations nearly started an all-out war.
They approached the social media companies seeking clarification about the circumstances of my lockdown (in one case) and suspension (in another). In the case of Facebook, what it learned is fascinating. This is the message from the Access Now staff member:
Regarding the Facebook case, they indicated that the post violates their standards…for posting content that exposes the undercover status of law enforcement personnel…
So what are the particular rules on this subject? This section titled “Image Privacy Rights” warns users not to post:
Content that exposes the undercover status of law enforcement personnel if:The content contains the agent’s full name or other explicit identification and explicitly mentions their undercover status, orThe content contains images identifying the faces of the law enforcement personnel and explicitly mentions their undercover status.
In the course of the failed operation, the Sayeret Matkal unit killed 7 Palestinians, including a commander. In response, Hamas fired 400 rockets into southern Israel. This tit-for-tat came very close to commencing all-out war. Does this sound like a normal law enforcement operation?
Further, how long after such an undercover operation do these Facebook “privacy protections” remain in place? When do soldiers or police who’ve engaged in an undercover operation lose those privacy rights? Do they retain them for a month, a year, forever? Note that the Gaza operation ended weeks ago. Apparently, Facebook believes the unit’s identity must be protected indefinitely.
If that’s the case, let’s examine the assassination of Mahmoud al Mabouh by a twenty-seven-person Mossad assassination squad. They operated undercover, but were exposed by Dubai’s CCTV internal surveillance system. Dubai police disseminated pictures (see displayed image) of most of the Israeli operatives, which were subsequently published everywhere on the internet, including Facebook. By its own logic, these images should have been suppressed. But they weren’t. Why? Because to do so would have made Facebook look like fools. A million horses had fled the barn. How would they get them all back inside? Would you lock the barn door after they left?
The only difference in this case is the two entities which released the images: in one case Dubai police and in the second, Hamas. Facebook and most of the world recognized that an Israeli murder in Dubai was an illegitimate act and the authors of it deserved to be outed. But Facebook refuses to grant Gaza similar status. Israeli soldiers who engage in similar acts somehow deserve immunity for them. Why?
For those of us following the tortured process of watching Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg defend hiring a GOP opposition research outfit to sling anti-Semitic charges against George Soros, the logic above will appear familiar. These are petty, small-minded people who can’t be bothered to use their brains to think about the difference between reality and their rules.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.