Facebook's "Accidental Mistake" and Free Speech in the Arab World
"All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship." — George Bernard Shaw
Twenty-four hours later, Facebook issued a "sincere apology" and said that a member of its team had "accidentally removed something you posted on Facebook. This was a mistake."
Although Facebook did not say which "problematic" item had prompted it to take such a drastic measure, apparently it was referring to an article that had been published by Gatestone Institute: The Palestinian Authority's Inconvenient Truths.
Facebook's move came at a time when Arab dictatorships in general, and the Palestinian Authority in particular, have been cracking down on Facebook users.
During the past year alone, a number of Palestinian journalists and bloggers were arrested by Western-funded Palestinian Authority security services in the West Bank for criticizing the PA leadership on their Facebook pages.
Among those detained was Esmat Abdel Khaleq, a university lecturer in journalism. She was held in detention for two weeks for posting comments on her Facebook page that allegedly insult Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Many Palestinian journalists, and those in the Middle East, are forced to use Facebook to publish what their own media will not accept. The media in the West Bank is mostly controlled by the Palestinian Authority, which has repeatedly demonstrated a large degree of intolerance toward any form of criticism. The same applies, of course, to most Arab dictatorships.
Arab governments have obviously become wary of the use their critics are making of Facebook to air their grievances and opinions. In some countries, including the Palestinian Authority, intelligence services have set up special teams to monitor Facebook and other social media networks in search of critics and "dissidents."
But the problem becomes worse when Facebook itself starts removing material that bothers dictatorships and tyrants.
One can only hope that the same Facebook employee who "accidentally" removed the article will make the same mistake and close down accounts belonging to terrorist organizations and their leaders.
Take for example, the account of senior Hamas official Izzat al Risheq, or the numerous accounts that promote hatred and violence and are openly affiliated with terrorist and jihadi groups.
All one has to do is log in to these accounts, especially the ones in Arabic, to see how most of them are engaged in all forms of incitement.
Those behind these pages are not seeking to achieve progress by "challenging current conceptions," as George Bernard Shaw noted. Instead they are using Facebook, among others, to spread messages of hate and abuse against anyone who does not share their views.
Many Arab and Palestinian journalists and intellectuals have long been waging a fierce campaign to get rid of censorship in their countries. Some have even paid with their lives to achieve this goal, while many others have been arrested or are facing intimidation and terror. It is the duty of Facebook and Western societies to side with those seeking freedom, and not to be complicit in suppressing their voices.
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