Protecting Palestinian freedom of speech online and in the mainstream media

A recently-published reports highlights a bias against Palestinians and their supporter on Meta's social media platforms.

On 22 September, a long-awaited independent report on social media company Meta’s policies and actions in May 2021 was released, revealing clear evidence of a bias against Palestinians and their supporters.

In May 2021, mass protests had erupted in Jerusalem, following an Israeli Supreme Court decision to evict 13 Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. Hundreds were injured when police reacted with violence to these protests, and 20 people died in subsequent Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking to EED, Yasmeen Iraqi from EED partner 7amleh, the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, describes these events as a turning point in the Palestinian struggle for freedom of speech.

“Digital media changed the struggle in Palestine, and it is now as much an online struggle as a real-life one. In May 2021, the battle really went online. Palestinians mobilised and posted on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, telling their side of the conflict. When hundreds of Palestinians are all posting the same story – a child who is arrested, a bomb in Gaza – they are difficult to ignore. These posts exposed Israeli policies and actions in a way that was never possible before. But with many posts removed and posters blocked, it was also a content moderation war,” she says.

Nida Boassoumi from EED partner Sada Social agrees with this assessment. “All platforms limit Palestinians’ access to talk and public our thoughts or to comment on events,” she says.

EED partner Baladna Radio experienced this silencing in real time, when they were unable to access their Facebook account with almost 400,000 followers, one of their main communications tools.

Both 7amleh and Sada Social are working to advance Palestinian’s digital rights in both Palestine and Israel.

Clear evidence of bias

Commissioned by Meta, following significant pressure from many groups, the report acknowledged biased content filtering policies, documenting disparate treatment of Arabic and Hebrew content. It noted that Meta consistently censored hashtags, took down posts and limited distribution of content by Palestinians documenting Israeli violence, thus violating Palestinians’ right to freedom of expression, impacting freedom of assembly and freedom to political participation and non-discrimination and further distorting the international community’s perception of events happening in Palestine.

While Nida believes that the Meta report is not likely to change things, she sees it as at least documenting this situation, and empowering activists in their work of lobbying social media platforms.

Advancing digital rights

In May 2021, with an avalanche of complaints, 7amleh set up a hotline so that individuals could report online violations where posts were removed, and comments were censored or blocked.

In an EED-funded initiative, 7amleh have now launched an online database,, for individuals to report these violations online and they also provide quarterly reports that they use when lobbying social media companies.

Sada Social has been recording online violations of the Palestinian narrative since 2017, and categorises these in monthly and annual reports, as well as keeping track of prosecutions or arrests due to social media posts. Both Sada and 7amleh maintain ongoing communications with social media platforms. Nida sees this work not only as protecting the right to free speech in Palestine, but as also helping to ensure that Palestinians can stay safe and secure in their everyday lives. Sada Social runs training programmes to educate young Palestinians about their digital online rights.

Nida believes that while social media offers new opportunities for Palestinians to raise their voices in a way that is no longer possible in more traditional media, this occurs in an atmosphere of ever diminishing freedom of expression. “Young Palestinians think a lot before they post; they know that they can face repercussions from all sides; they could be arrested or their families could be targeted,” she says.

Nida also warns of the potential of Artificial Intelligence in further distorting the Palestinian narrative. “By silencing Palestinians online today, these platforms are rewriting news and the history of Palestine. If there is no data available, both Palestine’s future and history are at risk,” she says.

Both organisations emphasise that freedom of speech in Palestine is under attack from all sides, including from the Palestinian Authority, with journalists and activists frequently falling victim to attacks, seizure of their devices, information stolen, attacks and threats of prison terms, as well as from the Israelis.

Further stifling of freedom of speech

The shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by an Israeli sniper in May 2022 brought home the very real threats faced by journalists covering the Palestinian conflict, and the lack of impunity for attacks. The recent forced closure of seven Palestinian civil society organisations over alleged links to terrorism is yet further evidence of these attempts to silence Palestinians.

Yet, as both Nida and Yasmeen emphasise, Palestinians are determined to continue to be heard.

“It is as if with these events, a new fire has been lit. More and more young people want to become journalists or citizen journalists and to report on what is happening here in Palestine,” says Yasmeen.

Nida also notes that freedom of speech online is not just a Palestinian issue: “If we are silenced, we know that many others will be silenced too. It is up to us all to fight together,” she says.


 This article reflects the views of the grantee featured and does not necessarily represent the official opinion of the European Endowment for Democracy, the European Commission or any other European State or other contributors to EED.


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