Policing a community sounds like a good idea. But what sounds good in theory is not always so in practice. And in the case of the Facebook community, this device is being used as a cudgel against pro-Israel voices.
Zahava Englard Shapiro, a staunch pro-Israel activist and past executive director of One Israel Fund, told The Jewish Press that Facebook has banned her for allegedly offensive posts so often that she “can’t even keep track as to how many times.”
“The most outrageous time,” she said, “was when Facebook sent me a notice about a post I had written three years before where I referenced Arab Muslim terrorism, stating a factual account. They claimed it did not conform to community standards, which is the same type of message I receive each time I am banned.”
According to Statista, Facebook currently has 2.2 billion active monthly users, making it the most popular social media platform worldwide. Anyone on Facebook can report a post for including hate speech, fake news, or content related to violence, harassment, or terrorism.
If Facebook administrators believe a post violates the company’s standards, it places its author in “Facebook jail.” Access to his account is then either limited or completely blocked for up to 30 days at a time. Opportunities for redress are few to non-existent.
“I tried to fight the charges, but to no avail. My account was locked for three days,” said Izzy (Yisroel) Weiss regarding a post he wrote in response to a woman promoting BDS. Weiss, who works for former Assemblyman Dov Hikind in Brooklyn, said he has been put in Facebook jail on four different occasions.
“Facebook is a partisan platform,” he asserted. “They do not cater to those whose views they do not align with. It is very clear that on the Israeli-Palestinian issue they are clearly on the side of the Palestinian cause.”
“The truth apparently goes against Facebook’s community standards,” said Shapiro. But “Facebook has no problem allowing Jew-hating posts and pages that clearly explain – with diagrams – how to murder a Jew. Somehow, that isn’t contrary to Facebook community standards,” she said.
Alan Silver – who lives in Telzstone just outside of Jerusalem and runs a pro-Israel Facebook group with over 9,400 members – said he has been blocked “at least 15 times” since joining Facebook. He believes he has “been a target by organized Muslim groups” that bombard Facebook with complaints.
Dr. Elana Heideman, executive director of the Jerusalem-based The Israel Forever Foundation, told The Jewish Press that “Facebook jail represents two specific dangers to the ability to defend Israel in social media. First, it denies the right to freedom of speech specifically of those advocating for Jewish rights in Israel.
“Second, it indicates that there is a targeting system at work that is attempting to silence the voices of those advocates. Much like we see on campuses and in general social discussions, Facebook jail – like any blacklist or other means of censorship – is a perceived risk to potential activists who share their voice.”
She added, “Talking about Israel requires courage, confidence and resolve…. Knowing you can be ‘digitally jailed’ makes it harder for individuals to reach a wider audience and for organizations to increase their impact.”
Some are also hurt financially. Avi Abelow, executive director of the 12Tribe Films, told The Jewish Press that his pro-Israel company was removed from a Facebook platform that allows providers to earn revenue from advertisements. “This was a serious financial hit,” he said.
Abelow tried to get reinstated but ran up against a brick wall. “They are not transparent and are very unhelpful,” he said. “When they removed us from their mobile platform, we asked why in the appeal process. They just sent a formal response with a link to a standards document of tens of pages. No indication of what you did wrong and what you have to fix, just a generic ‘against our standards’ message with no assistance to know what to fix in order to be able to return to the platform.”
Not one to sit and complain, Abelow decided to fight back. “We started an initiative called ‘Don’t Shut Us Up,’” he said. Located online at dontshutusup.com, it is a “fast-growing, grassroots, international movement that uses social media, short video updates, petitions and PR to fight those who are silencing legitimate opinions online,” he said.
Abelow and his team are currently “compiling a list of all the cases of censorship” on social media to be followed by a push for action. They are asking anyone who experienced or knows about incidents of online censorship to contact them.
Facebook did not respond to numerous requests for comment for this story.