Instagram is classified as one of Islam’s holiest mosques as a terrorist organization

Instagram removed posts and banned hashtags about one of Islam’s holiest mosques because its content editing system mistakenly linked the site to a label the company maintains for terrorist organizations, according to internal employee communications seen by BuzzFeed News. The bug is the latest content editing failure by Instagram and its parent company Facebook, which has faced accusations from users around the world that Censored content about the Israeli aggression towards the Palestinians.

The bug, which was reported internally by angry employees on Tuesday, caused Instagram to remove or ban posts with hashtags to Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in the Islamic faith. Since Friday, the mosque has been The site of the clashes Between the Israeli police forces and Palestinians, many of whom had visited the site to pray on the last days of Ramadan.

In an effort to draw attention to the violence, Instagram users have posted videos that have been tagged with #Aqsa or their Arabic equivalents #Aqsa or #Aqsa, only to discover that their posts have been deleted or hidden from search results. Some notices showed that Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, had removed the posts because they were linked to “violence or dangerous organizations”. When employees learned of the removals and the rationale behind them, some of them filed with internal complaints.

In one case, an employee saw that Instagram had removed a graph describing the situation at Al Aqsa, due to its association with “violence or a terrorist organization.” After the employee lodged a complaint, they wrote in an internal post, they were informed that the photo had been removed “based on a reference to ‘Al Aqsa’ which is a specific organization”, a term on Facebook referring to “Dangerous individuals and organizations. (content was eventually restored after complaint).

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

Facebook’s censorship of posts about Al-Aqsa comes at a time of intense tension and violence in the region. so far 53 Palestinians, including more than a dozen children, and six Israelis, have been killed, and more than 300 people have been injured since the fighting erupted last week. As people use Instagram and Facebook to spread information on the ground – from the forced evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem to the violence at Al-Aqsa – some have found their posts blocked or deleted.

To critics and even some employees, Facebook’s recent content management failures are evidence of the American company’s lack of understanding and resources in the region, and show how reckless mistakes can have a huge impact when its products are used by more than 3 billion people around. the scientist.

Facebook previously said Middle Eastern news outlet The National Posts containing the hashtag Al Aqsa were “mistakenly restricted,” but an internal post obtained by BuzzFeed News on Wednesday went even further, noting that the content was removed because Al Aqsa “is also Name of an organization approved by the United States government. “

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment other than what was stated in the internal post on Wednesday.

Last week, Palestinian Instagram users also complained about the removal of Instagram stories or temporary 24-hour videos and photos on the platform, about the conflict. On Friday, the company attributed the bug to a bug in the social network that affected users’ sharing of Stories around the world.

These errors sparked thinking among some Facebook employees. In a post over the weekend, an employee at an inside group wrote that “the outside perception is that the FB is in time to silence political rhetoric and apologize later.”

“Some of these incidents are human review errors and others are mechanical and I don’t know which is more prevalent but why don’t decision makers use local expertise to [Middle East and North Africa] area such as Public Policy or Comms and consult with them before deciding whether to remove sensitive 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 started Campaign to give bad ratings to Instagram apps in Google Play Store.

In response, Jay Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, wrote a day later that the company had teams that “sort and unblock any issues as they arise.”

But this effort did not prevent the continued removal of content from Al-Aqsa Mosque, where the conflict erupted last Friday when Israeli police stormed Palestinians. who gathered On the occasion of the last Friday of the blessed month of Ramadan. Complaints about censorship of content using the hashtag Al Aqsa continued until Tuesday, when the employee in question reported an incorrect deletion of a post.

While there is an armed Palestinian coalition in the West Bank known as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist entity, and other similar organizations such as the Al-Aqsa Foundation. It is considered part of its support network by the United States government, the critical employee on Facebook said that this is not an excuse for censoring Al-Aqsa hashtags.

“If there was a certain group called Washington rioters and publications that simply mentioned the word Washington removed, that would have been totally unacceptable,” they wrote. “I really want to stress that this part of our user base is really feeling alienated and censored and after having so many issues like this – whether it’s technical or product-based – our users won’t give us the benefit of the doubt.”

On Wednesday, an employee on the company’s Hazardous Persons and Organizations Policies team wrote in his internal post that the term Al Aqsa “must not and does not violate our policies.”

“As many of you have rightly pointed out, simply using the same name as a particular organization does not make place and organization the same,” they wrote. “Our policies do not call for the removal of people, places or things that share a name with a particular organization – so any removals based solely on mentioning the name of the mosque are definitely operational errors and should never occur under our policies.”

Others were less confident in Facebook’s internal interpretation. Ashraf Zeitoun, who served as Facebook’s head of policy for the Middle East and North Africa from 2014 to mid-2017, noted that the company has hired some of the world’s top terrorism experts who can certainly distinguish between mentioning Al-Aqsa and Al-Aqsa. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

“For them to go and identify one of two words with a connection to a terrorist organization, this is a flimsy excuse,” he said, noting that he was involved in formulating policies on how the company categorizes terrorist groups and their content. “They are more qualified than this and more efficient than this.”

Zeitoun cited Facebook’s internal fear of upsetting Israeli interests and over-reporting of content as possible reasons for the removal of Al-Aqsa’s videos and photos.

In response, a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that Al Aqsa’s content was being restricted due to human error, not any government requests.

The removal of Facebook and the ban of some Palestinian content caused the social network’s employees to speak internally. Ahead of the regular company-wide meeting on Thursday that is expected to be chaired by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, some workers began voting on a question asked, “Our integrity systems fail marginalized groups (see: Palestine, BLM, Indigenous women). What are we going to do about it? ?”

The question is low on the list of top questions, behind at least three different questions about Facebook’s work-from-home policies and one wondering if Mark Zuckerberg will one day host. Saturday Night Live, after Tesla CEO Elon Musk appeared on the variety show last weekend.

In another question, an employee asked if Facebook would move its regional office from Tel Aviv, which some Palestinian American employees cannot access due to Israeli restrictions. Noting that Human Rights Watch has Israel is defined as an apartheid stateThey asked if Facebook would reconsider its location in the Israeli city.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo