TikTok, Instagram Target Outlet Covering Israel–Palestine Amid Siege on Gaza

Periods of Israeli–Palestinian violence have regularly resulted in the corporate suppression of Palestinian social media users.

A man records a video with his mobile phone of rockets being fired from Gaza City towards Israel on October 7, 2023. Dozens of rockets were fired from the blockaded Gaza Strip towards Israel on October 7, 2023, an AFP journalist in the Palestinian territory said, as sirens warning of incoming fire blared in Israel. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP) (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)
A man records a video with his mobile phone of rockets being fired from Gaza City toward Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

As Israel escalates its bombardment of the Gaza Strip in retaliation for a surprise attack from Hamas, TikTok and Instagram have come after a news site dedicated to providing coverage on Palestine and Israel.

On Tuesday, a Mondoweiss West Bank correspondent’s Instagram account was suspended, while the news outlet’s TikTok account was temporarily taken down on Monday. Other Instagram users have reported restrictions on their accounts after posting about Palestine, including an inability to livestream or to comment on other’s posts. And on Instagram and Facebook (both owned by the same company, Meta), hashtags relating to Hamas and “Al-Aqsa Flood,” the group’s name for its attack on Israel, are being hidden from search. The death toll from the attack continues to rise, with Israeli officials reporting 1,200 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon.

The platforms’ targeting of accounts reporting on Palestine comes as information from people in Gaza is harder to come by amid Israel’s total siege on its 2 million residents and as Israel keeps foreign media out of the coastal enclave. Israel’s indiscriminate bombing campaign has killed more than 1,100 people and injured thousands more, Gaza’s Health Ministry said Wednesday.

Periods of Israeli–Palestinian violence have regularly resulted in the corporate suppression of Palestinian social media users. In 2021, for instance, Instagram temporarily censored posts that mentioned Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s most revered sites. Social media policy observers have criticized Meta’s censorship policies on the grounds that they unduly affect Palestinian users while granting leeway to civilian populations in other conflict zones.

“The censorship of Palestinian voices, those who support Palestine, and alternative news media who report on the crimes of Israel’s occupation, by social media networks and giants like Meta and TikTok is well documented,” said Yumna Patel, Palestine news director of Mondoweiss, noting that it includes account bans, content removal, and even limiting the reach of posts. “We often see these violations become more frequent during times like this, where there is an uptick in violence and international attention on Palestine. We saw it with the censorship of Palestinian accounts on Instagram during the Sheikh Jarrah protests in 2021, the Israeli army’s deadly raids on Jenin in the West Bank in 2023, and now once again as Israel declares war on Gaza.”

Instagram and TikTok did not respond to requests for comment. 

Mondoweiss correspondent Leila Warah, who is based in the West Bank, reported on Tuesday that Instagram suspended her account and gave her 180 days to appeal, with the possibility of permanent suspension. After Mondoweiss publicized the suspension, her account was quickly reinstated. Later in the day, however, Mondoweiss reported that Warah’s account was suspended once again, only to be reinstated on Wednesday. 

The news outlet tweeted that the first suspension came “after several Israeli soldiers shared Leila’s account on Facebook pages, asking others to submit fraudulent reports of guideline violations.” 

A day earlier, the outlet tweeted that its TikTok account was “permanently banned” amid its “ongoing coverage of the events in Palestine.” Since the outbreak of war on Saturday, the outlet had posted a viral video about Hamas’s attack on Israel and another about Hamas’s abduction of Israeli civilians. Again, within a couple of hours, and after Mondoweiss publicized the ban, the outlet’s account was back up. 

“We have consistently reviewed all communication from TikTok regarding the content we publish there and made adjustments if necessary,” the outlet wrote. The magazine’s staff did not believe they violated any TikTok guidelines in their coverage in recent days. “This can only be seen as censorship of news coverage that is critical of the prevailing narratives around the events unfolding in Palestine.”

Even though the account has been reinstated, Mondoweiss’s first viral TikTok about the eruption of violence cannot be viewed in the West Bank and some parts of Europe, according to the outlet. Other West Bank residents independently confirmed to The Intercept that they could not access the video, in which Warah describes Hamas’s attack and Israel’s bombing of Gaza as a result, connecting the assault to Israel’s ongoing 16-year siege of Gaza. TikTok did not respond to The Intercept’s questions about access to the video. 

On Instagram, meanwhile, Palestinian creator Adnan Barq reported that the platform blocked him from livestreaming, removed his content, and even prevented his account from being shown to users who don’t follow him. Also on Instagram, hashtags including #alaqsaflood and #hamas are being suppressed; Facebook is suppressing Arabic-language hashtags of the operation’s name too. On paper, Meta’s rules prohibit glorifying Hamas’s violence, but they do not bar users from discussing the group in the context of the news, though the distinction is often collapsed in the real world.

Last year, following a spate of Israeli airstrikes against the Gaza Strip, Palestinian users who photographed the destruction on Instagram complained that their posts were being removed for violating Meta’s “community standards,” while Ukrainian users had received a special carve-out to post similar imagery on the grounds it was “newsworthy.” 


Israel Responds to Hamas Crimes by Ordering Mass War Crimes in Gaza

A September 2022 external audit commissioned by Meta found the company’s rulebook “had an adverse human rights impact … on the rights of Palestinian users to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, political participation, and non-discrimination, and therefore on the ability of Palestinians to share information and insights about their experiences as they occurred.” Similarly, Meta’s Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy, which maintains a secret blacklist of banned organizations and people, is disproportionately made up of Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian entities, a factor that contributed to over-enforcement against Palestinians.

Big Tech’s content moderation during conflict is increasingly significant as unverified information runs rampant on X, Elon Musk’s information free-for-all diluted version of Twitter, once a crucial source during breaking news events. Musk himself has led his 160 million followers astray, encouraging users on Sunday to follow @WarMonitors and @sentdefender to learn about the war “in real-time.” The former account had posted things like “mind your own business, jew,” while the latter mocked Palestinian civilians trapped from Israel’s siege, writing, “Better find a Boat or get to Swimming lol.” And both have previously circulated fake news, such as false reports of an explosion at the Pentagon in May.

Musk later deleted his post endorsing the accounts.

For now, Musk’s innovative Community Notes fact-checking operation is leaving lies unchallenged for days during a time when decisions and snap judgments are made by the minute. And that says nothing of inflammatory content on X and elsewhere. “In the past few days we have seen open calls for genocide and mass violence against [Palestinians] and Arabs made by official Israeli social media accounts, and parroted by Zionist accounts and pro-Israel bots on platforms like X with absolutely no consequence,” Mondoweiss’s Patel said. “Meanwhile Palestinian journalists & news outlets have had their accounts outright suspended on Instagram and Tiktok simply for reporting the news.”

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