Reddit's silencing of pro-Palestine speech betrays its ethos – The New Arab

In today’s day and age, social media platforms are the digital equivalent of the Pony Express, telegraph and telephone of their era. They have even supplanted television as a source of news and information.   
Reports prepared by digital rights groups have shown that these platforms not only shape political views, they also amplify extremism and violent tendencies. For better or worse, social media plays a gargantuan role in shaping global human discourse. 
Facebook is the Big Daddy of this market, with nearly 2-billion daily users and 3-billion monthly users. That is nearly 40% of the world population. It is 5th globally in overall internet traffic, valued at nearly $650-billion, and is the 34th largest Fortune 500 company. 
But there has been pushback to Facebook’s overwhelming dominance. Both left and right wing parties have complained about the heavy hand of censorship; though media analysis has shown that Mark Zuckerberg puts his finger on the scale, and left-wing speech far more likely to be censored than right wing speech. Users also complain that Facebook gives a pass to extremist content that promotes violence.
“Such censorship erases the Palestinian cause from the digital world.  It is part of a systematic campaign not only to erase Palestinian existence, but to scrub the most popular venues for political discourse of such a presence”
In the Israeli context, far-right users have posted incitement to violence with impunity and face no consequences for it, while pro-Palestinian users face suspension and permanent bans. Studies have highlighted the censorship of pro-Palestinian voices on the two major social media platforms, Twitter and Facebook.
Users face suspension for content which supposedly violates the companies’ “community standards.” These community standards seem to apply mainly to criticism of Israel or amplification of the Palestinian perspective.
For example, during Israel’s attack on Gaza last May, I posted an image on Facebook of a Palestinian couple mourning the death of their child. It was a moving display of emotion that humanised the suffering inflicted by Israel on Gaza. But Facebook moderators deemed it too disturbing and slapped a warning on it.
Such censorship erases the Palestinian cause from the digital world.  It is part of a systematic campaign not only to erase Palestinian existence, but to scrub the most popular venues for political discourse of such a presence.
❗️Over the past two weeks, 7amleh documented more than 500 reports of Palestinian digital rights violations, which showed a significant increase in the censorship of Palestinian political speech.

Check out full report: https://t.co/NFR9rINQRE#DigitalRights pic.twitter.com/eliPy3jcsh

In 2015, Israel’s then-Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (currently Israel’s UK ambassador) met with Google executives and announced a “joint monitoring accord” to target anti-Israel content. Later, Google denied the Israeli claim in the face of allegations that states dictate its moderation decisions.
Nevertheless, the country’s Cyber Unit has reported “ten of thousands” of posts and videos for anti-Israel bias. Another Israeli minister, boasting the country’s power to police offending content,  claimed that the platform censored 95% of what her ministry reported. Google reports a lower, but still staggering, figure of 80%. Clearly, Israel has a tight grip on these platforms.
Reddit’s Digital Censorship 
Reddit’s slogan is that it is the “front page of the internet.” It has 48 million active monthly users, 130,000 subreddits, and is ranked 20th globally in terms of internet traffic. In June 2021, it had 1.7billion visits. It’s impending IPO will set the company’s valuation at $15 billion.
Not bad for a corporation that began as an altruistic project created by internet freedom pioneers, who created Reddit as a forum for unfettered debate on all the issues of the day, or virtually any subject in which someone was interested.
Anyone can start a subreddit, moderated by “mods” who developed their own rules in line with Reddiquette.  Reddit empowered people as a major venue for online democracy. There was nothing like it at the time, and it struck a chord with tens of millions.
Today ,Reddit has gradually transformed into a corporate entity, losing some of the venturesome pioneering spirit that was its early hallmark. It has also generated heated controversy for hosting subs accused of promoting hate speech, misogyny, and homophobia. Reddit admins, responsible for enforcing the rules for the entire site, began banning subs.  Thousands bit the dust.
Most users understood the need for some form of policing of noxious content. Reddit benefited by the fact that the decisions were not made from a top-down hierarchy like Facebook, or subject to the whims of top executives like Mark Zuckerberg, but used a far more decentralised and democratic system.
As Nick Bolduc said, “A community that decides these things for itself at least has a stronger argument than a community subjected to the decisions of a centralised platform.”
“Reddit began removing content at the behest of censors, as the site moved from eliminating hate speech to outright censorship of political speech. This was especially true of views critical of Israel or supportive of Palestinian rights”
How Reddit Censorship Works in Practice 
Then problems began to pop up. Reddit began removing content at the behest of censors, as the site moved from eliminating hate speech to outright censorship of political speech. This was especially true of views critical of Israel or supportive of Palestinian rights.
Earlier this month, Amnesty International released a report declaring that Israel was an apartheid state. While many celebrated this recognition, on Reddit, the response has been dispiriting, as some subs have censored attempts to highlight the report. The r/worldnews sub has blocked multiple attempts by Redditors to post links to the report. My attempt to ask the mods to explain their decision failed to elicit a response.
One user’s post linking to Amnesty’s report was allegedly censored because it was “opinion,” rather than “news.” While the sub does have a rule prohibiting opinion pieces, Amnesty’s article is clearly a news story. But it’s clearly a news story it wishes to suppress.
Across social media platforms, pro-Palestinian content is often censored and taken down using false accusations of anti-Semitism, conflating any rightful criticism of Israel’s human rights abuses with anti-Semitic sentiment.
Ironically, when a commenter on Reddit called me “stinkerswine,” I reported it as anti-Semitism and hate speech to the platform. The response from the admins who enforce rules for the entire platform was that it didn’t violate Reddit’s rules.
Later, an admin actually banned me permanently from the site, though my appeal was successful and the ban lifted. But the censorious abuse of power permitted on Reddit is disturbing. It reflects a stifling of speech on Palestine and a parallel monopoly enjoyed by pro-Israel administrators.
An even larger phenomenon may have influenced the lifting of my ban. Reddit’s IPO, scheduled for next month, demands a company follow a strict set of rules. Bad press could damage the prospects for owner Conde Nast’s $15-billion payday.
This, rather than a genuine acknowledgement of wrongdoing, is far more likely the reason that Reddit was so quick to repair any damage this incident caused them. But it does not cure any of the larger abuses of power and double standards of free speech outlined here.
Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog and is a freelance journalist specialising in exposing secrets of the Israeli national security state. He campaigns against opacity and the negative impact of Israeli military censorship.
Follow him on Twitter: @richards1052
Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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