Facebook employees are circulating an internal petition calling for the company to investigate content moderation systems that led many Palestinians and allies to say their voices were being censored, the Financial Times reports. The news comes weeks after Israeli airstrikes killed more than 200 people in Gaza, including at least 63 children. Israel and Hamas have now reached a cease fire.
Palestinian activists and allies have long accused social media companies of censoring pro-Palestinian content — and the issue has only gotten worse during the recent conflict. At Facebook, content moderation decisions are made by third-party contractors and algorithms, and the process is less than perfect, particularly in non-English speaking countries. After Instagram restricted a hashtag referring to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, pro-Palestinian activists coordinated a campaign to leave one-star reviews of Facebook in the app store.
It appears Facebook employees are taking note. “As highlighted by employees, the press, and members of Congress, and as reflected in our declining app store rating, our users and community at large feel that we are falling short on our promise to protect open expression around the situation in Palestine,” they wrote in the petition. “We believe Facebook can and should do more to understand our users and work on rebuilding their trust.”
The letter was posted on an internal forum by employees in groups called “Palestinians@” and “Muslims@.” It reportedly has 174 signatures.
Employees are asking Facebook to do a third-party audit of content moderations decisions surrounding Arab and Muslim content. They also want a post by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he allegedly called Palestinian civilians terrorists, to be reviewed by the company’s independent oversight board.
Last month, employees at Google, Apple, and Amazon wrote internal letters calling for executives to support Palestine. Employees at all three tech giants said they felt executives were unsupportive of Muslim workers. Some also wanted Google and Amazon to review a $1.2-billion cloud computing contract the companies had recently signed with the Israeli government. Yet no company had as immediate an impact on information surrounding the fighting as Facebook.
In a statement emailed to The Verge, a Facebook spokesperson said the company has committed to an audit of its community standards enforcement report. “We know there were several issues that impacted people’s ability to share on our apps,” the spokesperson added. “While we fixed them, they should never have happened in the first place and we’re sorry to anyone who felt they couldn’t bring attention to important events, or who believed this was a deliberate suppression of their voice. We design our policies to give everyone a voice while keeping them safe on our apps and we apply them equally, regardless of who is posting or what their personal beliefs are.”