Facebook violated rights of Palestinian users, report finds

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Actions by Facebook and its parent Meta during last year’s Gaza war violated the rights of Palestinian users to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, political participation and non-discrimination, a report commissioned by the social media company has found.

The report Thursday from independent consulting firm Business for Social Responsibility confirmed long-standing criticisms of Meta’s policies and their uneven enforcement as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: It found the company over-enforced rules when it came to Arabic content and under-enforced content in Hebrew.

It, however, did not find intentional bias at Meta, either by the company as a whole or among individual employees. The report’s authors said they found “no evidence of racial, ethnic, nationality or religious animus in governing teams” and noted Meta has “employees representing different viewpoints, nationalities, races, ethnicities, and religions relevant to this conflict.”

Rather, it found numerous instances of unintended bias that harmed the rights of Palestinian and Arabic-speaking users.

In response, Meta said it plans to implement some of the report’s recommendations, including improving its Hebrew-language “classifiers,” which help remove violating posts automatically using artificial intelligence.

“There are no quick, overnight fixes to many of these recommendations, as BSR makes clear,” the company based in Menlo Park, California, said in a blog post Thursday. “While we have made significant changes as a result of this exercise already, this process will take time — including time to understand how some of these recommendations can best be addressed, and whether they are technically feasible.”

Meta, the report confirmed, also made serious errors in enforcement. For instance, as the Gaza war raged last May, Instagram briefly banned the hashtag #AlAqsa, a reference to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, a flash point in the conflict.

Meta, which owns Instagram, later apologized, explaining its algorithms had mistaken the third-holiest site in Islam for the militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed offshoot of the secular Fatah party.

The report echoed issues raised in internal documents from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen last fall, showing that the company’s problems are systemic and have long been known inside Meta.

A key failing is the lack of moderators in languages other than English,…

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