Instagram and Facebook users are reporting that their posts depicting scenes of devastation from a hospital in Gaza City are being suppressed. Despite previous company policies protecting the publication of violent and newsworthy scenes of civilian death, users claim that their posts are being deleted or flagged for violating guidelines on nudity or sexual activity. This comes after an explosion at al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City left hundreds of civilians dead and wounded.
The explosion at al-Ahli Hospital occurred amid a 10-day bombing campaign by Israel. The Palestinian Ministry of Health in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip initially blamed the explosion on an Israeli airstrike, while the Israeli military later claimed it was caused by an errant rocket misfired by militants from the Gaza-based group Islamic Jihad. Footage of the hospital’s flaming exterior and the dead and wounded civilians, including children, quickly emerged on social media after the attack.
However, users attempting to share this imagery on Instagram and Facebook are facing censorship. Since the latest war began, users inside and outside of Gaza have complained of deleted posts, locked accounts, blocked searches, and other impediments to sharing information about the Israeli bombardment and conditions on the ground. Palestinian digital rights group 7amleh has documented hundreds of user complaints about censored posts related to the war, surpassing levels seen two years ago.
Marwa Fatafta, a policy analyst with the digital rights group Access Now, described the situation as “censorship mayhem” and highlighted the added severity given the internet shutdown in Gaza. Some users have successfully uploaded graphic imagery from al-Ahli Hospital to Instagram, suggesting that takedowns are not due to a formal policy but rather a combination of outsourced human moderation and automated image-flagging software.
One particular image circulating on social media shows the flaming exterior of the hospital with a clothed man lying beside a pool of blood. Users who shared this image had their posts removed or were prompted to remove them themselves, with the platforms citing violations of guidelines on nudity or sexual activity. However, the image does not contain any explicit content. This suggests that the censorship may be triggered by automated content moderation systems rather than human review.
It is worth noting that Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, has previously instructed its moderators not to remove gruesome documentation of Russian airstrikes against Ukrainian civilians. However, there is no known carveout for Palestinians. A third-party audit commissioned by Meta last year found that the unwarranted censorship of Palestinian users violated their human rights.
The suppression of posts depicting the Gaza hospital bombing raises concerns about the selective application of content moderation policies and the impact on freedom of speech and access to information. As the conflict continues, it is crucial for social media platforms to ensure transparency and consistency in their moderation practices, especially when it comes to sensitive and newsworthy content. The ability to share and document events on the ground is essential for raising awareness and understanding of the situation in Gaza.