Breaking: Appeal Challenges Arbitrary Suppression of Pro-Palestinian Speech By Meta

Washington, D.C. | | January 9, 2024 – Yesterday, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) filed an appeal to the Meta Oversight Board challenging Meta’s suppression of non-violent, activist speech on its Instagram platform. Representing activist Shaun King, Attorney Abed Ayoub, the National Executive Director of ADC, and Sara Elizabeth Dill, a London-based human rights lawyer and partner at Anethum Global, argue that Meta has arbitrarily limited speech by those working in support of Palestinians and who are demanding a ceasefire and an end to the genocide that is occurring in Gaza. In Mr. King’s case, Meta has removed content and shut down an account with over 5 million followers – an action it took on Christmas Day. Meta’s targeting is not limited to Mr. King — many other Pro-Palestinian activists are experiencing removal of their posts or restrictions on their accounts.

A copy of the brief can be found here. The appeal asks for access to meaningful review and a remedy, an unbiased and informed determination of content removal, a reform of policies that do not put the thumb on the scale of opposing sides in international affairs, and the restoration of this account.

The brief makes three primary arguments. First, Meta has arbitrarily and erroneously removed content through “emergency” policies which by its own admission were applied in a discriminatory fashion and often by automated (artificial intelligence) reviews. The use of these discriminatory applied policies are leading to the shutting down of accounts that advocate support for Pro-peace and Pro-Palestinian causes. Their censorship and suppression of speech extends to non-violent language, similar to that utilized by Mr. King. Given Meta’s role in facilitating critical debates over human rights and democracy, their behavior is a threat..

Second, Meta has attempted to insulate its internal decisions from review by the Meta Oversight Board, despite the Oversight Board’s stated purpose of helping Meta “answer some of the most difficult questions around freedom of expression online.” The Oversight Board is intended to provide a check on Meta’s decision about content. In this case, after Meta suspended Mr. King’s account, their outside legal counsel communicated that Meta’s position is that because Mr. King no longer has an active Instagram account; he is ineligible to appeal decisions on content removal, or erroneous determinations of community guidelines violations to the Oversight Board. Meta has effectively rendered the Oversight Board obsolete with this trick, using it only as a shield against criticism while quietly removing its power.

Third, Meta’s protocols lack any transparency for what groups are labeled as dangerous, preventing users of its platforms from knowing what content or actions will be considered a violation, and therefore cannot be supported. The vague Dangerous Individuals and Organizations (DIO) policy is regularly used to deem content and accounts in violation of community guidelines. The lack of transparency and vagueness of the DOI policy will easily result in a massive abuse of power across all Meta platforms.

ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub said, “Mr. King has used his platform to raise awareness about the genocide happening in Gaza to his millions of followers. It is no surprise that his account was targeted and ultimately suspended by Meta. His is the most high-profile case of Meta’s censorship – unfortunately his case is not the only one. Our office has received thousands of complaints from Palestinian and Pro-Palestinian users, all of them facing clear examples of censorship and suppression. The scale of Meta’s attack on speech, particularly that which uplifts the humanity of Palestinians, is staggering, and should be of concern for all users of their platforms. We are committed to ensuring that Meta is held accountable and stopping them from continuing this practice of censoring and suppressing those who courageously speak up for human rights.”

The Meta Oversight Board was established to ensure that Meta complied with international human rights law, especially as to freedom of expression, and its obligations under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals governing businesses and human rights. The Charter establishing the Board states its purpose is to ‘protect free expression by making principled, independent decisions about important pieces of content and by issuing policy advisory opinions on Meta’s content policies. The board will operate transparently, and its reasoning will be explained clearly to the public” and “provide an accessible opportunity for people to request its review and be heard.

To contribute to ADC’s legal efforts on fighting back against the censorship and suppression, please consider making a contribution today by clicking here.

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