Mark Zuckerberg has championed Facebook’s commitment to free speech as a reason not to act on incendiary posts from President Donald Trump about the Black Lives Matter protests.
It’s a standard that activists and journalists in the Middle East wish extended to their accounts.
Dozens of Tunisian, Syrian and Palestinian activists and journalists, many of whom use the platform to document human rights abuses in the region, say their Facebook accounts have been deactivated over the last few months.
Civil liberties and human rights groups have argued this shows that Facebook appeals to free speech principles only when they are politically advantageous.
“My job is to document the kidnapping of children, the raids on the homes of innocent civilians and bombings carried out by the Syrian regime,” said Syrian journalist Mohammed Asakra, whose personal Facebook account was deleted in early May, along with dozens of others. “Facebook doesn’t care. It closes our accounts on the pretext of terrorism. We are against terrorism and violence.”
The takedowns come as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has resisted calls from his own employees to take action on posts from politicians, most notably one from Trump that implied violence could be used against looters in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody.
Zuckerberg has repeatedly defended the company’s policy of taking a hands-off approach with statements from politicians. He said in a post on May 29 that he disagreed with how the president spoke but that “accountability for those in positions of power can only happen when their speech is scrutinized out in the open.”
That scrutiny can only take place if Facebook doesn’t censor the voices of those who aren’t in positions of power, said David Kaye, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.
“Zuckerberg’s position privileges the speaker as if free speech or even political speech is only speech that a politician makes,” he said. “Public debate means providing a space where everybody can speak. The whole focus on Trump has shown he doesn’t understand what freedom of expression really means.”
Over the last two months Facebook has deleted at least 35 accounts of Syrian journalists and activists, according to the Syrian Archive, a database of documentary evidence of human rights violations and other crimes committed by all sides of the conflict in Syria sourced mostly from social media.
May 30, 202007:46