Facebook's Middle East Censorship Problem

The Atlantic Wire
Facebook's Middle East Censorship Problem
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Facebook's Middle East Censorship Problem

After facing pressure from Jewish organizations, Facebook has removed a page calling for a "Third Palestinian Intifada" against Israel. The page had all sorts of violent language on it telling Palestinians to take to the streets. "Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews," read the page. Shutting it down won Facebook the praise of groups such as the Anti-Defamation League who applauded the networks "responsiveness." However, it also puts Facebook in the uncomfortable position of having to adjudicate long-simmering disputes between nationalities and religions. And it doesn't look as though the social network has put out the fire.

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Though the page, which had more than 340,000 fans, is gone, at least two more pages calling for a third Palestinian intifada have taken its place. One features a Star of David burning in flames and the other hosts comments from a user with an icon of a Nazi flag. According to Bloomberg, one of the pages was opened by the same group that opened the initial Intifada page.

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So has Facebook just committed itself to policing this issue and continually banning these pages as they pop up? The company's comments suggests it would like to avoid heavy policing

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"We continue to believe that people on Facebook should be able to express their opinions, and we don’t typically take down content that speaks out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas," said Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes.

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Nevertheless, the company is clearly becoming deeply entrenched in monitoring hot-button groups. Noyes told Fox News he's had his eye on the intifada group for awhile.

"The 'Third Palestinian Intifada' began as a call for peaceful protest, even though it used a term that has been associated with violence in the past," Noyes said. "After the publicity of the page, more comments deteriorated to direct calls for violence. Eventually, the administrators also participated in these calls. After administrators of the page received repeated warnings about posts that violated our policies, we removed the page."

Facebook will now have to walk a fine line. After its role in the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the social network became a literal hero in the Middle East. If it's perceived as having a heavy hand in censoring pro-Palestinian speech, that flurry of goodwill could dissolve. At the same time it will have to answer to pro-Israeli groups in the U.S. and Israel.

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