Activists and news agencies are calling for a Facebook blackout after the social media platform temporarily disabled the accounts of several prominent Palestinian journalists.
Facebook disabled accounts of page administrators of the Jerusalem-based Quds News Network and the Gaza-based Shehab News Agency on Friday. Quds has more than five million likes on Facebook, while Shehab has more than six million.
In response, activists are calling for a complete Facebook blackout on Sunday between the hours of 8 and 10 pm. In a statement, organizers of the boycott asked people to use the hashtag “FBCensorsPalestine” to spread word of the protest.
Palestinian news editors and journalists believe that the decision to disable their accounts is linked to a new agreement between Facebook and the Israeli government to monitor Palestinian accounts for “incitement of violence.”
Facebook apologized on Saturday for disabling the accounts, and editors from Quds and Shehab confirmed that their accounts had been restored.
A Facebook spokesperson told Electronic Intifada that the pages had been removed by accident and were restored as soon as Facebook became aware of the error. The social media giant defended the agreement with the Israeli government, saying that it is part of its ongoing efforts to counter extremism.
“Online extremism can only be tackled with a strong partnership between policymakers, civil society, academia and companies and this is true everywhere. That’s why we meet with policymakers around the world to discuss these important issues,” the spokesperson told Electronic Intifada. “Facebook has zero tolerance for hate speech, no matter who it is directed towards. Our meetings with the Israeli government were part of an ongoing process of dialogue with government representatives globally.”
But activists believe that Facebook’s agreement to work with the Israeli government represents a grave danger to press freedom in Palestine. The statement calling for the boycott argued that the new agreement between Facebook and the Israeli government “serves the Israeli occupation purposes of controlling Palestinian virtual space.”
Social media users have taken to Facebook and Twitter to show solidarity with the movement. Many have condemned Facebook’s initial decision to block journalists’ accounts.
Quds has tweeted in support of the campaign, saying, “Quds calls for users to ‘stop publishing’ on Facebook for two hours tonight in protest against the political targeting of Palestinian content, deletion of pages and banning of accounts.”
Earlier this month, Reuters reported Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked as saying that Facebook, Google and YouTube followed through with 95 percent of Israeli government requests to delete content that “incites violence.”
Israel has previously arrested and sentenced Palestinian journalists to prison for “incitement.” In July, Quds journalist Samah Dweik was sentenced to six months in prison on incitement charges, allegedly for writing a pro-Palestinian post that included the words “martyr” and “intifada,” the news agency reported.