Sunday, 13 Jun 2021

Facebook deploys special team as Israel-Gaza conflict spreads across social media

NEW YORK (REUTERS) – Facebook set up a 24/7 “special operations centre” last week to respond to content posted on its platform about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid violence in the region, the company said on Wednesday (May 19).

Misinformation, hate speech and calls for violence about the conflict have circulated on social media platforms amid the deadly fighting.

“This operations centre allows us to closely monitor the situation so we can remove content that violates our community standards faster, while also addressing possible errors in enforcement,” Ms Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice-president of content policy, told reporters on a conference call.

Facebook has previously set up similar operations centres to focus on situations such as global elections.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told Reuters that Facebook’s head of global affairs Nick Clegg and other executives had on Tuesday spoken to Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

Facebook executives previously met with Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz via Zoom, Politico reported last week.

A Reuters fact-checking team has debunked images shared on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that falsely claim to be related to the conflict.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Jewish extremists had formed new groups on WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned encrypted messaging service, for the purpose of committing violence against Palestinians.

“As a private messaging service, we do not have access to the contents of people’s personal chats though when information is reported to us, we take action to ban accounts we believe may be involved in causing imminent harm,” a WhatsApp spokesman said. “We also quickly respond to valid legal requests from law enforcement for the limited information available to us.”

Social media platforms have also faced accusations of censorship.

Last week, BuzzFeed News reported that Facebook-owned Instagram had mistakenly removed content about al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem where the Israeli security police clashed with worshippers.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation also reported that Instagram and Twitter had blamed glitches for the deletion of posts mentioning the possible eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem.

More on this topic

Facebook has banned Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas from its platform and removes content praising the group regarded by Israel, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist group.

Facebook’s Ms Bickert said the new operations centre was staffed by experts, including native Arabic and Hebrew speakers.

California-based Facebook has been criticised in the past for lacking local language expertise and resources amid violent situations in other countries.

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