Meta deletes Al Jazeera presenter’s profile after show criticising Israel

Tip of the Iceberg episode investigated how Facebook targets Palestinian content related to Israel.

Tamer Almisshal's deleted Facebook profile
Tamer Almisshal's deleted Facebook profile [Screengrab Facebook]

Al Jazeera Arabic presenter Tamer Almisshal has had his Facebook profile deleted by Meta 24 hours after the programme Tip of the Iceberg aired an investigation into Meta’s censorship of Palestinian content titled The Locked Space.

The programme’s investigation, which aired on Friday, included admissions by Eric Barbing, former head of Israel’s cybersecurity apparatus, about his organisation’s effort to track Palestinian content according to criteria that included “liking” a photo of a Palestinian killed by Israeli forces.

Then the agency would approach Facebook and argue that the content should be taken down.

According to Barbing, Facebook usually complies with the requests and Israel’s security apparatus follows up cases, including bringing court cases if need be.

The investigation followed up on Barbing’s admissions by interviewing a number of human and digital rights experts who agreed that there was a distinct imbalance in how Palestinian content is restricted.

The programme also interviewed Julie Owono, a member of Facebook’s oversight board, who admitted there is a discrepancy in how rules are interpreted and applied to Palestinian content and added that recommendations had been sent to Facebook to correct this.

Al Jazeera has asked Facebook about why Almisshal’s profile was shut down with no prior warning or explanation. It had not received a response by the time of publication.

‘Targeting a journalist’

Almisshal said the profile that was deleted is his personal page, set up by him in 2006 and verified. He had at least 700,000 followers on it.

“After the huge success of the episode, I discovered that my personal Facebook profile had been deleted with no explanations given,” he told Al Jazeera. “It really does seem like some kind of revenge for the programme. We haven’t received any response from Facebook yet.”

The programme’s team had set out to investigate how wide the gap was between how Palestinian and Israeli posts and material are treated by Facebook.

To do that, it set up an experiment in which it built two different pages, one with a pro-Palestinian perspective and the other a pro-Israeli one, and ran trials on them. The team concluded that there was indeed a big discrepancy in how much scrutiny there is and how rules are applied to posts on either page.

It is not clear why Facebook would choose to delete an individual’s page in response to a programme.

“There was no explanation, no warning,” Almisshal said. “There had been no issues with any of the content on my page before. No message saying I had violated any rules.”

Almisshal stands by his programme.

“Last March, Facebook restricted my account, and it has happened other times, but usually the situation is resolved,” he said. “This was a journalistically sound project, and we communicated with Meta for it, giving them the opportunity to speak during the investigation.

“But to target a journalist individually instead – I would never have expected that.”

Source: Al Jazeera