“Fatah couldn’t stop me, Hamas couldn’t stop me, not even Facebook will stop me from continuing my work,” is what Arab Israeli journalist Khaled abu Toameh told The Jewish Press Tuesday morning, January 15, in a lengthy interview about Facebook’s bizarre treatment of his Facebook page.
In the space of less than 24 hours, abu Toameh’s page was shut down, parts of it were scrubbed, and then it was back, without a word of explanation. For everyone who breathed a sigh of relief that this journalist hasn’t been censored, who hoped it had just been a glitch – the truth is that something very wrong has happened. Several articles dealing with corruption in the Palestinian Authority and in the Jordanian intelligence were scrubbed from abu Toameh’s page while his page was hidden from the public.
So, to whom did this happen, what does it mean, and who is behind it? The Jewish press can answer the first question, speculate about the second question, and share alarm about the third. Facebook isn’t talking.
Abu Toameh is an Arab Israeli journalist who has written about the Middle East for more than two decades. He is one of the very few journalists – all of whom may be counted perhaps on the digits of a single finger, and that may be too generous – who cover the Middle East with knowledge, access, integrity and, most of all, fearlessness.
After receiving his degree from Hebrew University, abu Toameh began his journalism career working for several PLO papers. He soon quit those papers, however, because of the strict leash on what could be written about, and how it could be written.
Seeking unfettered press freedom, abu Toameh began writing for the Jerusalem Post, covering the Arab Palestinians and the disputed territories. He has also worked as a producer for NBC News, and has produced documentaries for the BBC, as well as Danish, Swedish and Australian media. He also writes for the Gatestone Institute.
FACEBOOK VIOLATES ITS OWN PRINCIPLES
On Monday, January 14, when Abu Toameh attempted to log on to Facebook, he received this message:
If you have any questions or concerns, please visit our Help Center.
The Facebook Team
When he again tried to log on, abu Toameh received notification from Facebook that his account had been removed for “security reasons.”
Where to begin to explain how Facebook shutting down abu Toameh is an affront to truth, is hypocritical and constitutes a loss to freedom of information which is precisely what Facebook is supposed to be about?
But first, what led to the censorship by Facebook.
On January 3, abu Toameh posted on his wall a link to a story he had written detailing examples of government corruption in the Palestinian Authority, “The Palestinian Authority’s Inconvenient Truths.” After providing concrete examples, abu Toameh wrote:
These are only some of the inconvenient truths that the Palestinian Authority does not want the outside world to know. Palestinian journalists often avoid reporting about such issues out of concern for their safety or for “ideological” reasons. These journalists have been taught that it is forbidden to hang out the dirty laundry.
Western journalists, funders and decision-makers who deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict need to know that there are many truths being completely ignored or hidden from their eyes and ears.
After posting the article, abu Toameh said, he “received dozens of threats and hate emails, mostly from the U.S., Canada and the U.K., not one from the Palestinian Authority.” A nasty campaign began of labeling the journalist “Israel’s Palestinian Propagandist,” he received emails telling him his “day will come,” and others claiming he is an “Apartheid supporter.” That last charge is particularly ironic given that abu Toameh lives in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Articles were written emblazoned with his picture and a Star of David drawn on his forehead, which, he said, “meant I was being ‘targeted.’” Ironically, because the threats were posted there several times, abu Toameh reported the threats to Facebook. There was no response to his reports.
And then, this week, abu Toameh posted two articles from Jordanian media sites, in Arabic, that apparently went too far. The articles were about Mohammed al-Dahabi, Jordan’s former Intelligence Chief, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for embezzlement. Authorities discovered that al-Dahabi had confiscated more than $50 million in public funds. Abu Toameh posted the articles on his page, without comment. While there were some comments posted in response on his page, abu Toameh suddenly received many more threatening emails calling him, “Zionist dog,” and asking him why he did not “write about the corruption of [his] Zionist handlers.”
Those were the last items abu Toameh posted before his page was removed by Facebook.
During Tuesday’s phone interview with The Jewish Press, abu Toameh remarked, “now I’m getting messages that my twitter account has been hacked.” He added, as he went through the messages he was receiving, “the enemies of truth are at work.”
And then, just a few hours after the interview, abu Toameh contacted The Jewish Press to say that his Facebook page was back up, with no explanation for its disappearance.
Less than an hour later, however, we again heard from abu Toameh: the articles about corruption in the PA and by the former Jordanian Intelligence Chief had been deleted from his page before it was reinstated.
Had those articles about Arab corruption not been deleted, it would be possible to dismiss the Facebook page removal as merely a technical error. Given that those articles were scrubbed, it appears much more likely that someone is being pressured to keep information about Arab corruption off Facebook, or at least off of Facebook pages where the charges are given credence by an Arab.
Many are aware that it is not easy to have Facebook pages removed – there are easily dozens of anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi pages extolling the virtues of brutal violence, Jew-hatred, and even, as abu Toameh told The Jewish Press, “Hamas leaders have Facebook accounts, as do hundreds of Jihadi terrorists.” So why was abu Toameh targeted, with little notice and no explanation?
At the very least what happened to abu Toameh could be construed as a breach of contract by Facebook. And wouldn’t the discovery process of a lawsuit reveal interesting information about why his page was pulled, at whose behest, and who authorized the scrubbing of some of abu Toameh’s postings?
A bedrock of the Facebook Principles is the
Social Value – People should have the freedom to build trust and reputation through their identity and connections, and should not have their presence on the Facebook Service removed for reasons other than those described in Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.
Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities contains very few restrictions, most of which have to do with trying to game people through various pyramid schemes or uploading viruses. The only restrictions that could conceivably apply are
7. You will not post content that is: hate speech, threatening or pornographic, incites violence or contains nudity, or graphic or gratuitous violence.
10. You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious or discriminatory.
The articles removed from abu Toameh’s page were news articles published elsewhere by abu Toameh himself, and by other media outlets with respect to the corruption of the former Jordanian Intelligence Chief. Therefore, one is hard pressed to find a legitimate reason for what happened. Unless Facebook can prove otherwise, it has violated its own terms, policies and principles.
Facebook did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication.
UPDATE Several hours after this article was originally published, abu Toameh received the following email from Facebook:
A member of our team accidentally removed something you posted on Facebook. This was mistake, and we sincerely apologize for this error. We’ve since restored the content, and you should now be able to see it.
The Facebook Team
Abu Toameh contacted The Jewish Press after the articles reappeared on his Facebook page this morning. He told us that he had not yet contacted Facebook about the deletions. The publicity caused by Facebook’s shocking actions, including this and other articles, petitions, emails and tweets of support and shock directed towards Facebook, caused the wrong to be righted. Score one for the good guys. Now let’s see if the picture of abu Toameh with the Magen David on his forehead like a target can be removed.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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