Facebook Moderators Overwhelmed Under Accusations of Bias

© Flickr / Master OSM 2011While sending a web link over Facebook Chat, a group of app developers noticed a curious amount of activity.
While sending a web link over Facebook Chat, a group of app developers noticed a curious amount of activity. - Sputnik International
Recently, Facebook blocked pro-Palestine news websites containing anti-Israel posts, including seven pro-Palestine news editors. Sputnik has discovered, however, that there is more behind the bans than initially thought.

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According to an Al Jazeera report published Monday, Facebook blocked the pages of four editors from the Shehab News Agency and three editors from the Quds News Network. Representatives of both news agencies claim that the bans are a display of anti-Palestinian bias, and a direct result of an Israeli agreement with Facebook to tackle "incitement."

After widespread complaint, the social network restored access to most of the pages and apologized for the incident, claiming that it was an accident.

This is not the only case of bans and blocks placed on pro-Palestinian speech on Facebook, however, in the wake of consistent criticism that the social media giant is "biased" toward Israel. Every time a pro-Palestinian user is blocked, Facebook is accused of bias and is bombarded with statements claiming that the bans are a result of a secret pro-Israel policy.

This was was the case for Marwa Osman, a pro-Palestinian political commentator banned from the social network following a post in which she expressed her opinion that Israel is not an actual state and that Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization. Speaking to Radio Sputnik's Brian Becker, Osman claimed that Israel is "afraid of the impact of social media," and that Facebook is acting on Jerusalem's behalf. Osman said that Israel resorted to "censorship" because information posted on social media could "widen [the] western world's eyes to atrocities committed [by Israel]."

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem October 8, 2015. - Sputnik International
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Osman offered that if Hillary Clinton becomes the next President of the United States, the likelihood of war in the Middle East will increase, suggesting that the alleged Facebook moderation bias is a "preliminary action being made by the Israeli zionist entity to…cover any source of information" that reveals Israel in a negative light.

There is a problem with this line of thought.

In July, The Jerusalem Post published an exhaustive investigative article claiming the opposite, that Facebook is, in fact, anti-Israel.

The Jerusalem Post's article included a story of the removal of a pro-Israeli image posted on a public Facebook page. Administrators for The Israel Video Network, the public Facebook page in question, contacted Dov Lipman, a DC native and former member of the Israeli parliament.

"Lipman created a pro-Palestine Facebook page and posted an image nearly identical to the pro-Israel one," the article reads. "He then reported the pro-Palestine image to Facebook, in an experiment to see if the company would again consider the rhetoric offensive."

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To Lipman's surprise, the Facebook moderation team did not find the pro-Palestine image to be of an inciting nature. Consequently, Lipman deduced that the social media platform's moderators are biased, and wrote a critical letter to the company, calling for Facebook to block both sides of a conflict, or none.

The social media giant offered another apology: "A member of our team accidentally removed something you posted on Facebook. This was a mistake, and we sincerely apologize for this error. We've since restored the content, and you should now be able to see it."

The Algemeiner in July told a story of a "coordinated attack" by pro-Palestinian activists that resulted in a pro-Israeli page being banned. There are additional online examples from both sides of the conflict, all sharing two common traits: accusing Facebook of a "bias," and an apparent ignorance of the voice on the other side of the conflict.

It appears that both sides suffer from what appears to be capricious Facebook moderation protocols. Both sides are equally quick to claim this inconsistent moderation is a result of a much wider policy bias, connecting individual cases to some elusive system, either ignoring, or being totally unaware, of the identical argument being propounded by the other side.

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The endless political quarrel between two sides engaged in an armed conflict results in an overwhelming amount of online rhetoric. This effect could be observed — and to some degree still can be observed — in the Russian-speaking segment of the internet, in which those who claim to be either Ukrainian or Russian generate thousands of comments at topic-specific websites. This "comment war" is followed by a "report war," with both sides generating an enormous stream of complaint and abuse reports, that must be addressed either by an automatic flagging system or a human moderator. Considering the staggering amount of information, both man and machine may err, and this is likely what is happening to Facebook's beleaguered moderation crew, as they seek new and forthright ways to express their apology.

Officially, Facebook appropriately seeks to limit posts that could be considered an "incitement of violence," and aspects of online conversations on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fit that definition. But it is unlikely that the social media giant openly supports one side and suppresses another, and corresponding Google searches return many public Facebook pages that support either of the two sides.

Having a global platform with which to express one's sentiments is a great leap forward for humanity, but it takes a deeper human awareness to rise above one's immediate experience and see that the other side is suffering, as well.

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