Yesterday, I was using Facebook when a message popped on my screen saying that a post I’d published on the platform had been found to be “hate speech.” My account was suspended for seven days. I would have no access to publishing content or comments during that time.
The post consisted of a link to an Al Monitor article about a Palestinian family which had been defrauded of their land by a settler company using fraudulent documents which purported to convey ownership from the Palestinians to the settlers. An Israeli court found the new deed contained forged signatures and was therefore null and void. To the linked article I added the comment: “Israeli settlers steal the land.”
Apparently, the Israeli troll army is active on Facebook and organized a mass reporting swarm of the post which labeled it hate speech. Enough reports were received that the post was removed and my account suspended. I promptly appealed the decision, which has been under review since yesterday. I also sent the message below in this post to the Facebook press team protesting the warped logic of the decision.
Here is the Facebook definition of hate speech:
We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation. We separate attacks into three tiers of severity, as described below.
…We allow humor and social commentary related to these topics.
So, making a true statement as determined by an Israeli court, that settlers essentially stole this family’s land, and in general use such fraudulent means to gain control of many other Palestinians’ land, is a “direct attack” on settlers based on…what exactly? Settlers are not a race, nor an ethnicity. As for national origin, I specifically used the term “Israeli settler” and did not include all Israelis in my statement (though I easily could have since the Israeli state is party such theft on a much larger scale). As for “religious affiliation,” I did not note that settlers are Jews, and my criticism had nothing to do with the Jewish religion (though I have elsewhere criticized the settler political ideology which hijacks and warps Jewish tradition).
So how precisely is my comment “hate speech?” Clearly, it isn’t.
If you are suspended under similar circumstances do not “accept” Facebook’s decision when you’re asked to do so. Appeal the decision. It won’t necessarily produce a positive result. But accepting the decision will not end the suspension. It only means you’ve given up the right to further dispute Facebook’s decision against you. This is confusing, because Twitter often does permit users to accept the censoring of a tweet and end the suspension. Not with Facebook.
A recent NY Times articles noted that the social media platform was clamping down on hate speech, by which the article referred to much more egregious examples than mine. The report quoted the company’s vice president for integrity, Guy Rosen. So I tweeted to Rosen (using Twitter, of course) asking him to define for me how and why my comment qualified as hate speech. Rosen has not replied.
This incident is a perfect example of the very perpetrators of hate and hate speech–settlers and their social media troll apologists–gaming the system. They exploit the platform to suppress legitimate criticism of their oppression of Palestinians. Facebook has allowed itself to be “taken” by these hoaxsters. This shouldn’t be terribly surprising given the close personal and business relationships both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg have cultivated with Israel. As American Jews, they’ve each expressed their fondness for Israeli itself. Their executives have also met repeatedly with Israeli ministers seeking to eliminate “anti-Israel” content. The officials claim that Facebook and other social media companies have agreed to intensify their efforts to identify and censor such content.
It’s ironic that after I won a major victory in an Israeli court against a confidant of Bibi Netanyahu who sought to stymie my right to report on his efforts to smear Israeli police investigating Netanyahu, that Facebook now steps in and does the dirty work Walter Soriano couldn’t.
I’m delighted that Facebook users have promoted this blog post. It now has nearly 6,000 FB Likes. Also grateful to the Reddit subreddits, r/Palestine and r/ChapoTrapHouse, where my posts regarding this episode were upvoted nearly 200 times. To further show your resistance, Follow my Tikun Olam blog page and get notices of my latest blog posts and other social media content I curate. Don’t forget another form of resistance and solidarity with my work is to make a donation. You may do that via Paypal (see link in sidebar) or for a tax-deductible gift use the green Network for Good icon in the sidebar.
I’d be grateful if you would promote this post on Facebook (in particular) and any other social media platforms you use. Here is the message I sent the press team yesterday:
On June 7th, I posted to Facebook this article from the site, AI Monitor, which reported that Palestinian landowners who had lost their homes through fraudulent real estate transactions perpetrated by Israeli settlers had regained them.
I added to the article my own comment: “Israeli settlers steal land.” The screenshot of my post and comment is attached.
Somehow my comment was flagged as violating Facebook standards. Among the specific content which constitutes violating such standards, the rules mention comments that disparage ethnic or religious groups.
I would remind you that Israeli settlers are part of a nation. They are part of a right-wing movement within Israeli society. Their views are highly controversial not only in Israel, but among Jews and non-Jews outside Israel. They are not a religion or an ethnic group. And if we determine that they are Jews and therefore criticizing them is criticizing Jews as a religion, I would remind you that I am a Jew. My criticism of Israeli settlers has nothing to do with their religion (which I share). It is a criticism of the wholesale Israeli theft of Palestinians lands going back decades. It is also a criticism of the common practice by Israeli settlers of presenting fraudulent property sale contracts and forged documents to authenticate their “purchase” of Palestinian lands.
I would be happy to produce media sources to document the claims I raised above.
My suspension from Facebook is a travesty. I have asked for a review of this decision. I hope you can expedite it.
I plan on approaching several of the media outlets where I publish to interest them in this story. It would be great if I could also report that Facebook lifted the suspension when it learned about it.