Hamas’ horrific attack on Israel last Saturday has put social media in a bind. On one hand, false posts or posts containing inaccurate or misleading information have proliferated at an alarming rate. On the other hand, many posts that contain accurate and even helpful information are being suppressed or removed.
Meta (Facebook) released a statement on Friday regarding its “ongoing efforts regarding the Israel-Hamas War”.
“Hamas is designated by the US government as both a Foreign Terrorist Organisation and Specially Designated Global Terrorists. It is also designated under Meta’s Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy,” the statement read. “This means Hamas is banned from our platforms, and we remove praise and substantive support of them when we become aware of it, while continuing to allow social and political discourse — such as news reporting, human rights related issues, or academic, neutral and condemning discussion. “
The social media corporation followed this disclaimed by adding:
“We want to reiterate that our policies are designed to give everyone a voice while keeping people safe on our apps. We apply these policies regardless of who is posting or their personal beliefs, and it is never our intention to suppress a particular community or point of view.”
In the three days after the attack, Meta said it removed or marked as disturbing more than 795,000 pieces of content in Hebrew or Arabic.
In the wake of the attack, Meta temporarily expanded its violence and incitement policy by removing content that clearly identifies hostages taken by Hamas, even if it is being done to condemn or raise awareness of their situation. The company claims this is being done to “prioritize the safety and privacy of kidnapping victims”. This was done at the behest of the European Commission which pressured social media platforms to remove illegal and harmful content to comply with its Digital Services Act (DSA).
One Facebook group set up for Israelis who might be missing in the aftermath of the attacks was removed by Meta as it contained photos and descriptions of missing Israelis.
The American Center for Law & Justice, a politically conservative Christian-based legal organization, contacted Meta, asking that they correct this decision:
“It has come to our attention that Meta has expanded its policy regarding removing content related to the Hamas-Israel conflict, the ACLJ wrote in a letter addressed to Nick Clegg President of Global Affairs for Meta. “Based on Meta’s policy explanation, it appears that Meta’s decision to remove content related to the identity of the hostages taken by Hamas from Israel was based on a misunderstanding of the Geneva Conventions.”
“While we understand Meta’s concern to be cautious and to refrain from displaying graphic photos of dead children, desecrated bodies, and the like, we would like to assure you that allowing users to post pictures and other content regarding the abducted men, women, children, and the elderly held by Hamas as hostages does not violate any law regarding prisoners of war.”
“It certainly does not violate the Geneva Conventions, which only apply to states and not to private entities like Meta. More importantly, the individuals Hamas took captive as hostages are not “prisoners of war” (POWs) under the Geneva Conventions. Taking of POWs is a normal aspect of war, sanctioned by the Geneva Conventions, while abducting civilians as hostages is a war crime.”
“POWs are members of armed forces of a party to the conflict who have fallen into the power of the enemy. The Geneva Conventions require States Parties to protect POWs from “acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.” This provision is generally understood to prohibit the state party from posting pictures of POWs. This POW provision does not apply to hostages since they are not POWs.”
“Hostages are noncombatants who do not take an active part in the hostilities but who are nonetheless taken captive. This is often “accompanied by the threat to kill, to injure or to continue to detain [the captive] in order to compel a third party to do or to abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release, safety or well-being of the hostage.” Under the above legal rules, Hamas’ publishing of photographs and videos abusing and humiliating the victims is a war crime, but when the general public or family members post photographs and other information related to hostages for identification and awareness purposes, there is no violation of law. In fact, families posting their loved ones’ photos even if they were POWs does not violate the Geneva Conventions. Moreover, since the Israeli armed forces are actively searching for the hostages, it is important that Meta allow content related to their kidnapping to be posted so that the abductees can be easily identified and that Hamas, a terrorist organization, is seen for what it truly is by the world. Furthermore, publishing information about the hostages is akin to Meta allowing the sharing of an Amber Alert. As such, Meta should not hesitate to allow publishing information about the hostages taken by Hamas posted by their families. All media outlets are publishing such content,8 and none of them is violating the Geneva Conventions. By allowing users to post pictures of the hostages, Meta would be doing its civic duty to get the information out and help the victims.”
The letter was signed by Jay Alan Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ, and Jordan Sekulow, the Executive Director of the ACLJ, who requested a meeting with the executives of Meta.
A coalition of some 250 organizations that are uniting to save the hostages. If you would like to help the effort, donations can be made via the Arise For Israel website.