Instagram vs. Palestine, Part I
Instagram is materially invested in suppressing Palestine and the legions of voices speaking up for it.
The erasure of Palestinian voices is not only unfolding in Gaza. The project to silence and suppress them, and their allies, is also being enforced online.
On Instagram, especially, where citizen journalism and advocacy pushing for balanced coverage has been met with a relentless barrage of censorship. Across its digital pages and stories, where the battle to make Palestinian suffering seen and its vanquished voices heard, Instagram has pushed a nefarious front of corporate authoritarianism. A front that shares the same aim of the military siege of Gaza – to remove and “thin” out Palestine from its digital landscape.
Sixty-three days into the crisis, we have observed the myriad ways Instagram silences content about Palestine. Many of us have been targeted and directly affected.
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Flagged accounts. Disabled features. The inability to like or comment on a post, or restrictions that limit your post from being seen beyond your followers. Removed posts and the widely feared suspended account.
The modes of suppression seem limitless, anchored to the mysterious shadow-ban that confines the reach and visibility of targeted users.
All of these modes of punitive censorship, levied upon those on-the-ground in Gaza or in nations far from it that expose the genocidal violence on its people, have skyrocketed since October 7.
Despite Instagram’s claim that it never “intends to suppress a particular point of view or community,” the past two months tell an entirely antithetical story.
More than a “moderation problem,” Instagram is materially invested in suppressing Palestine and the swelling legions of voices galvanizing around its besieged people.
The motives are many, including an institutional pro-Israel positionality rooted in economic interests, professional binds, and most saliently for purposes of this article, strategic partnerships with Israeli government bodies.
The “algorithms of oppression,” to quote Safiya Noble, that directly or disproportionately censor pro-Palestinian accounts have been widely examined. As are the unequally enforced community guidelines around “harassment” and “hate speech,” which incentive pro-Israel users to report content conveying the carnage in Gaza or showing solidarity with its victims.
But these are just the tip of the digital architecture of suppression Instagram imposes on Palestine. It is far more than mere chilling effect. What lies beneath the surface is more ominous, and even more, impeaches Instagram and its mother company’s, Meta, claim that is objective and neutral.
Instagram maintains a robust and ongoing relationship with several Israeli government agencies. In fact, it has a strategic partnership with the Israeli Cyber Unit – an extension of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).
The Israeli Cyber Unit, also known as Unit 8200, “is an Israeli Intelligence Corps unit of the Israel Defense Forces responsible for clandestine operation, collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT) and code decryption, counterintelligence, cyberwarfare, military intelligence, and surveillance.”
Through direct and ongoing collaboration, Instagram shares user data and content with the Israeli Cyber Unit; responds to requests to tailor its algorithm in line with elevating favorable content and against oppositional content; amplifies formal IDF military propaganda; and tracks the online advocacy of targeted accounts that are flagged as “disruptive.”
Disruptive individuals are punished in the myriad forms described above, from disabled account features to suspended accounts.
This mode of digital suppression that counts the IDF as a full-fledged partner, more than any other front of censorship, illustrates why Instagram is wholly positioned against the voices in, and for, Gaza.
It exposes why Instagram versus Palestine is far more than just a pithy title, but an online reality.
A dystopian reality, perhaps, unfolding on online terrain where the very military that bombs and bludgeons innocents in Gaza is similarly hellbent on erasing Palestine online.
But the strategic and structural ties between Instagram and Israel are more expansive than the IDF’s Cyber Unit. Instagram has direct ties and maintains ongoing communication with the Israeli National Prosecutor Office. Up through December 1st, this Office has issued 9,500 requests to Instagram to remove pro-Palestinian content.
Of these requests, 95% have been accepted.
A staggering figure, which since December 1st, has likely risen in terms of frequency of petitions and acceptance rate.
Instagram Versus Palestine, Part II, will delve deeper into these digital ties; and further uncover rising tide of suppression they devise against the people decrying genocide in Gaza.
Khaled A. Beydoun is a law professor and author. He publishes his insights daily on his socials at @khaledbeydoun.