The company founded on the principle of giving people a voice worldwide enforced speech policies that violated the freedom of expression of the Palestinians. The assessment that claims Meta's policies negatively impacted Palestinian's basic human rights didn't come from a Big Tech critic or angry ex-employee Meta commissioned a human rights assessment.
The impact of Meta's actions and policy decisions in the Gaza Strip was investigated by the Business for Social Responsibility. Meta managed to both over-enforce and under-enforce the removal of incorrect content.
The rights of Palestinian users to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, political participation, and non-discrimination appear to have been adversely impacted by Meta's actions. In conversations with affected stakeholders, they said that Meta appears to be another powerful entity that they are powerless to change.
Meta over-enforced content removal on a higher per- user basis for Arabic-speaking users. The difference could have contributed to the suppression of Palestinian voices. The report claims that Meta's "pro active detection" rates of potentially violating Arabic content were much higher than that of Hebrew content. Meta doesn't have a hostile speech classification for Hebrew. The lack of a Hebrew hostile speech classification may have contributed to the under-enforcement of Hebrew content.
At the beginning of the conflict, there was a surge in potentially violating cases being reviewed. The platforms saw a tenfold increase in case volume. According to the report, Meta didn't have enough Arabic or Hebrew speaking staff.
Over time, Meta's overenforcement of certain speech spread. Impacted users would be hit with "strikes" that would affect their visibility. It's possible that a wrongly flagged user would have a harder time being heard in the future. During times of war, the snowballing effect is particularly troubling.
The human rights impacts of these errors were more severe due to the fact that rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and safety were of heightened significance, especially for activists and journalists.
Meta was given some credit for making a few "appropriate actions" during the crisis. Meta made efforts to overturn enforcement errors after user appeals, established a special operations center, and prioritized risks of imminent offline harm.
BSR's report is a damning assessment of Meta's failures during the crisis. In their response, Meta framed it differently. While acknowledging the report, Miranda Sissons, Meta's Director of Human Rights, danced around the fact that Meta's actions hurt Palestinian's human rights. Sissons said the report had long-standing challenges around moderation in conflict areas.
21 policy recommendations were laid out in the report to address the company's negative human rights impact. Meta says it will only commit to 10 of those.
There are no immediate fixes to many of the recommendations. This process will take time, including time to understand how some of the recommendations can be addressed, and whether they are technically feasible.
Meta wants you to know that they aren't the bad guys. Meta says that the publication of their response should not be seen as an admission, agreement with, acceptance of any of the findings, conclusions, opinions or viewpoints identified by BSR.
Meta did not reply immediately.
Meta has a lot of experience with human rights issues. The company has been accused of facilitating human rights abuses for a long time.
Meta has commissioned human rights impact assessments in a number of countries to address some of its critics' concerns. Meta claims that its assessments allow it and other companies to identify potential human rights risks and impacts and promote human rights.
Digital rights experts have said in the past that these were better than nothing, but they didn't hold the company accountable. Critics accuse the company of burying an important human rights assessment of its platform in India. That report was commissioned by Meta.
Meta released an 83-page human rights report in July. Meta received a high grade. The report was denounced by privacy experts who spoke with Gizmodo.
The Human Rights Report is just a PR product with the words printed on the side.