Over the weekend, Facebook scrambled to make things right after mistakenly locking out administrators from two of the most widely read Palestinian news outlets. Image: AP
The company has recently struggled with censorship on its platform. It frequently removes posts that have news value and then blames the deletions on moderation errors, saying that its team processes million of reports of abuse a week. Facebook has a point insofar as the company has to deal with billions of posts, but this latest censorship dust up is particularly weird because it's just not clear what, if anything, the offending publications did to warrant attention.
On Friday, editors at Shehab News Agency, which has 6.3 million likes on Facebook, and at Quds News Network, which has 5.1 million likes on Facebook, were locked out of their Facebook accounts and unable to post to their respective pages. Not all editors were locked out, so both pages were able to continue posting updates.
In an interview with Gizmodo, Raja Abdulhaq, co-founder and editor of Quds, said that Facebook never provided any explanation as to why the accounts were disabled, and that it took a full day for Facebook to restore the accounts. At Quds, a total of four editors had their Facebook accounts suspended.
"We know of three more mainstream networks that had the same issue," Abdulhaq said. "We are verified media outlet on Facebook so we would expect the company to give us a little more respect."
Editors at both publications told The Electronic Intifada that they believe the suspension of their accounts is linked to Facebook's collaboration with Israel on an effort to crack down on posts that Israel believes incite violence. "It is very strange that Facebook would take part in such an agreement given that it is supposed to be a platform for free expression and journalism," Ezz al-Din al-Akhras of Quds told The Electronic Intifada. The details on the agreement between Israel and Facebook are sparse, though Facebook has said that the policy is meant to combat terrorism and extremism online.
In a statement provided to The Electronic Infitada on Saturday, Facebook apologised for the suspensions saying, "The pages were removed in error, and restored as soon as we were able to investigate." The statement is odd given that no pages were actually deleted. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment and clarification from Gizmodo.