Instagram has been named one of Islam’s holiest mosques by a terrorist organization

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Instagram deleted messages and blocked hashtags about one of Islam’s holiest mosques because the content moderation system mistakenly linked the site to a designation the company had reserved for terrorist organizations, according to an internal message from BuzzFeed News staff. The only mistake is the recent failure to moderate content on Instagram and its parent company Facebook, which has faced accusations from users around the world that it is censored content about Israeli aggression in relation to the Palestinians.

The mistake, which internal signals upset staff on Tuesday, prompted Instagram to delete or block messages with hashtags for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holy site in the Islamic faith. Since Friday the mosque has been place of collision between Israeli police forces and Palestinians, many of whom visited the site to pray in the last days of Ramadan.

In an attempt to draw attention to the violence, Instagram users posted a video tagged with the hashtag #AlAqsa or its Arabic counterparts # الاقصى or # ال only قصى to reveal that their posts have been deleted or hidden from search results. Some reports indicated that Instagram, owned by Facebook, deleted the messages because they were linked to “violence or dangerous organizations”. When employees learned of the removal and the rationale behind them, some filed internal complaints.

In one case, an employee saw that Instagram deleted an infographic describing the situation in Al-Aqsa, due to a connection to a “violence or terrorist organization”. After the employee filed a complaint, they wrote in an internal message, informing them that the photo was taken “based on a link to” alaqsa “, which is a designated organization,” a Facebook term denoting “dangerous individuals and organizations. “(Content was eventually restored after the complaint.)

“Both these and many other mistakes are completely unacceptable,” a Facebook employee wrote on an internal communications platform on Tuesday. “Al-Aqsa is the third holiest place in Islam and is a central aspect of the faith for about 1.8 billion people.”

Censorship of Facebook messages about Al-Aqsa occurs during a period of extreme tension and violence in the region. So far 53 Palestinians, including more than a dozen children, and six Israelis were killed and more than 300 were injured after fighting broke out last week. Because people used Instagram and Facebook to spread information from the ground – from the forced evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jari district of East Jerusalem to the violence in Al-Aqsa – some of them blocked or deleted their messages.

For critics and even some employees, the recent failures in content moderation are evidence of a lack of understanding and resources of the American company in the region and show how even careless mistakes can have a huge impact when its products are used by more than 3 billion people. the world.

Facebook has previously told Middle Eastern news newspaper National that messages with Al-Aqsa hashtags “were restricted by mistake,” but an internal post received by BuzzFeed News on Wednesday went further, noting that the content was removed because Al-Aqsa “is also the name of an organization authorized by the U.S. government. “

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment, other than what was in Wednesday’s internal message.

Last week, Palestinian Instagram users also complained about the removal of Instagram stories or ephemeral videos and images that run on the 24-hour platform about the conflict. On Friday, the company linked the error to a social media bug that affected users sharing stories around the world.

These mistakes have caused reflection among some Facebook employees. In his message over the weekend, one employee wrote in the internal group that “the external perception is that FB silences a political speech in a timely manner and later apologizes.”

“Some of these incidents are human review errors, while others are automated, and I don’t know what’s more common, but why executives can’t use local experience in [Middle East and North Africa] region, like Public Policy or Comms, and consult with them before deciding to remove confidential hashtags or political content, ”they wrote before sharing screenshots of various users who complain that their Instagram posts have been censored. . They also noted that Instagram users around the world have launched a campaign to evaluate Instagram apps in the Google Play store.

In response, Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, wrote a day later that the company has teams “that understand and unlock any problems as they arise.”

However, these efforts have not stopped the removal of content about the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where the conflict began last Friday when Israeli police stormed the Palestinians. who gathered celebrate the last Friday of the Muslim month of Ramadan. Complaints about content censorship with the hashtags “Al-Aqsa” continued on Tuesday, when the concerned employee reported the incorrect deletion of the message.

While in the West Bank, there is an armed Palestinian coalition known as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which the US and the European Union consider a terrorist organization, as well as other organizations with a similar name, such as the Al-Aqsa Foundation. are considered part of its network of support to the U.S. government, a critical Facebook employee said it was no excuse for censoring the hashtags of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“If a group called ‘Washington violators’ had been appointed and messages that simply mentioned the word ‘Washington’, it would have been completely unacceptable,” they wrote. “I really want to emphasize that this part of our user base already feels alienated and censored, and after so many such problems arise – be it technical products or a product – our users will not give us any doubts.”

On Wednesday, an employee of the “Dangerous Organizations and Individuals” policy group wrote in his internal message that the term “Al-Aqsa” (“الأقصى”) should not and does not violate our policy. “

“As many of you rightly point out, the mere use of the same name as a designated organization does not make the place and the organization the same,” they wrote. “Our policy is not to remove people, places or things that simply name the designated organization – so any relocations based solely on mentioning the name of the mosque are certainly execution errors and they should never happen our policy.”

Others were less confident in Facebook’s internal explanations. Ashraf Zeitung, who served as Facebook’s chief policy officer for the Middle East and North Africa from 2014 to mid-2017, said the company employs some of the world’s leading terrorism experts who could probably distinguish the mention of Al-Aqsa from the Martyrs’ Brigade. Al-Aqsa.

“For them, identifying one word out of two words as related to a terrorist organization is a lame excuse,” he said, noting that he was involved in developing policies regarding how the company targeted terrorist groups and their content. “They’re more skilled than this one, and more competent.”

Zeitoon cited an internal fear on Facebook of violating Israeli interests and excessive reporting of content as potential reasons for deleting Al-Aqsa videos and images.

In response, a Facebook spokesman told BuzzFeed News that Al-Aqsa’s content was limited due to human error and not due to any government requests.

The removal and blocking of part of Palestinian Facebook content has forced social media staff to speak out inside. Ahead of the next public meeting on Thursday, which is expected to be chaired by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, some workers began to raise a question that asked, “Our integrity systems do not work with marginalized groups (see: Palestine, BLM, Indigenous Women). shall we do with it? “

The question ranks low on the list of top questions, for at least three different questions concerning Facebook’s homework policy, and the question of whether Mark Zuckerberg will ever take Saturday night live, after a speech by Tesla CEO Ilona Musk on stage last weekend.

In another question, one employee asked if Facebook would relocate its regional office from Tel Aviv, to which some Palestinian-American employees could not access due to Israeli restrictions. Noting that Human Rights Watch had appointed Israel a state of apartheid, they asked if Facebook would ever review their location in an Israeli city.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

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