One journalist said that Facebook Likes did not care and took down accounts on the pretext of terrorism.
Facebook is now facing a backlash from thousands of people due to its inaction over the proliferation of hate speech and violence in its platform. Politicians who post violence-inciting messages are left alone. On the other hand, journalists and activists who are trying to expose anomalies had their accounts taken down. Allegedly, the social media giant is trying to suppress the freedom of speech of the people who try to oppose the government. But when it comes to politicians, the social media giant seems to be blind to all the hate speech and violence.
Facebook Goes Political for Likes on Facebook
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not act on the incendiary posts made by US President Donald Trump regarding the Black Lives Matter Protests. The reason, according to him, was the commitment Facebook has to free speech.
Moreover, journalists and activists wish that Facebook would extend such standards to them.
Many Syrian, Tunisian, and Palestinian activists and journalists who use the platform to document abuse to human rights in their region say that Facebook deactivated their accounts over the past few months.
Human Rights vs. Facebook
According to human rights groups and civil liberties, Facebook only applies its free speech principles to politically advantageous people.
Mohammed Asakra, a Syrian journalist, lost his personal Facebook account, along with many others. According to Asakra, his job is to document the raids on the houses of innocent civilians, kidnapping on children, as well as bombings whose suspect is the Syrian regime. He also added that Facebook does not care and that it closed their accounts on the pretext of terrorism even though they are against terrorism and violence.
The takedowns of Facebook accounts came after the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg refused to heed the calls of his employees. Facebook employees demanded their executives to take action on politicians’ posts on the platform. This mainly came after Trump implied that he would use violence against looters. Trump was referencing the protests for the death of George Floyd in the custody of the police.
Facebook’s Policy Doesn’t Get More Facebook Likes
Zuckerberg has repeatedly defended his decision by citing Likes for Facebook’s policy of not involving itself in the statements of politicians. In a post dated May 29, Zuckerberg said that he disagrees with what Trump said. However, he also said that politicians could only be held accountable when their speech is scrutinized in the open.
The United Nations’ special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, expressed his opinion about what the Facebook CEO said. According to him, the scrutiny that Zuckerberg is saying can only happen if Facebook will not censor the voices of people who are not in positions of power.
Kaye also added that the Facebook CEO’s position gives privilege to the speaker as if politicians make nothing but free speech or political speech. The definition of public debate is giving people space where they can all speak. Zuckerberg’s focus on Trump, according to Kaye, clearly means that he does not understand the real meaning of freedom of expression.
Facebook Accounts of Syrian Journalists and Activists Have Been Deleted Over the Last Few Months
According to the Syrian Archive, at least 35 Facebook accounts of Syrian journalists and activists were deleted by the social media company for the last two months.
Notably, the Syrian Archive is a Berlin-based database where documentary evidence of violations to human rights and other crimes involving all sides of the conflict in Syria is stored.
The activists believe that the social media giant has miscategorized their Facebook accounts and thought that it had links to terrorism. According to Facebook, it was reviewing the accounts before taking them down. However, there may be some who violated the policies of the company prohibiting praise, support, as well as representation of terrorist organizations.
Facebook Likes Explode for Activism
Hadi Al Khatib, the Syrian Archives’ founder, and director, said that none of the journalists have a connection to groups deemed as terrorist organizations by the US government.
One of the people who had their accounts deleted was Abdel Aziz Qetaz. His Facebook and Instagram accounts were both taken down. Qetaz worked as a freelance photographer and had worked with agencies such as Agence France-Presse. Last year, he documented “violations against civilians in Syria.” This documentation included airstrikes on civilian facilities, including markets and hospitals. Qetaz also added that he exposes violations to human rights done by both terrorists such as Al-Nusra as well as the Syrian government and its allies.
The #FBFightsSyrianRevolution Campaign was Launched on Twitter
Some of the individuals who were affected by the decisions of Facebook launched a campaign on the social media platform Twitter. The #FBFightsSyrianRevolution is alleging that the social media company is attempting to silence the people who try to oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
According to Al Khatib, the continuous takedowns of Facebook accounts may be a result of the increasing use of artificial intelligence and machine learning by the platform. These AI and Facebook used machine learning for content analysis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, the social media company has already sent home most of its content reviewers. For this reason, it only relies on automated tools to moderate content decisions. The company admitted that this resulted in more mistakes as well as a slower response than usual.
Moreover, Al Khatib said that Facebook, along with other social media platforms, is indeed beneficial when it comes to raising awareness. Such media can disseminate information about may various issues of injustice, most especially in oppressed countries that are under authoritarian regimes. In such countries, the situations in such countries do not allow independent media as well as the freedom of speech.
Al Khatib also added that it certainly looks as if social media companies are more cautious when it comes to the speech of political leaders than the journalists or the human rights activists.