Ramallah, occupied West Bank – On December 15, Twitter owner Elon Musk suspended the accounts of several journalists, including reporters from newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. Musk defended his decision, claiming the journalists violated the company’s new rule about revealing people’s locations.
The suspensions were condemned by the journalists’ newspapers and other media organizations – even the European Union and the United Nations joined in, saying the move set a dangerous precedent. A day later, Musk lifted the suspensions after conducting a poll in which respondents opposed his desired outcome.
But two weeks earlier there hadn’t been such a global outcry over the account’s suspension Arikat saida seasoned Palestinian journalist from Washington, DC, on 3 Dec.
He is the Washington bureau chief for the Jerusalem-based al-Quds, one of the most widely read Palestinian dailies, and a mainstay of State Department newsletters with its fiery questions about Palestine and the Arab region.
Asked if he thought his suspension from Twitter was related to his outspoken views on Palestine, Arikat told Al Jazeera: “I believe so. I can’t think of any other reason.
Friends & followers, after being suspended from twitter for 4 weeks, for 4 reasons still unknown to me, my account was restored this afternoon. Thank you 4 your support @Mondoweiss @OriNir_APN @jjz1600 @elgindy_ @ShibleyTelhami @abdelbariatwan @wyoumans @PhyllisBennis @Yousef Munayyer
— Said Arikat (@SMArikat) December 29, 2022
“I was hacked before the suspension, but that’s about it,” he said, adding that Twitter had cited that as the reason for suspending his account.
Noura Erakat, a renowned Palestinian human rights lawyer and lawyer, was suspended on January 8, days after Arikat got his back. Palestinian activist circles, in which Erakat was a prominent figure, took up her cause and the resulting outcry caused her account to be reinstated the next day.
Erekat had also received a notification from Twitter that her account was suspended because it had been hacked. Both she and Arikat messaged Twitter to inquire about the decision to suspend their accounts, but received no response.
Arikat has been the subject of several articles from right-wing pro-Israel outletswho claim his questions to State Department spokesman Ned Price on issues related to Palestinians were hostile and aimed at demonizing Israel.
After nearly a month, his account was reinstated on Dec. 29, but Arikat never got a response from Twitter as to why it was suspended, aside from the initial notification. Before his suspension, Arikat’s account was verified and had thousands of followers.
“After being suspended from Twitter for four weeks for reasons unknown to me, my account was restored this afternoon,” he said at the time.
After the suspension of his account, Facebook removed Arikat’s newspaper al-Quds, which has more than nine million followers, from the platform.
#عاجل | #فايسبوك Sports صفحة صح صح ا “الق د” داZ اء اηة اساarden عاym نife dyometer ارائizen لاغلاق اكlands #فلسطيني Approximately 10 days for the duration of the program #عربي و #فلسطيني @MetaNewsroom @Meta #meta #metanewsroom #Mark Zuckerberg #facebook pic.twitter.com/ig66wTEYE3
— جريدة القدس (@alqudsnewspaper) December 21, 2022
Translation: #Urgent | #Facebook closes the page of the al-Quds newspaper without any explanation other than that it was based on an Israeli request to close the largest #Palestinian media page, which has about 10 million followers and presents news that affects Israel’s image in the world harms; there has been #Arab and #Palestinian condemnation of this.
That account was reinstated two days later. However, digital freedom advocates have described many instances where social media giants such as Facebook or Twitter have restricted or blocked pages of Palestinian journalists, activists and others on their platforms.
“We recently witnessed some cases where Palestinian academics and journalists are censored on Twitter for various reasons,” said Mona Shtaya, an advocacy and communications manager at 7amleh, the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, a Palestinian digital rights organization.
One of the reasons cited by the platform was “violating community standards,” and some accounts were said to have been suspended “accidentally” or due to technical glitches, Shtaya said. But she believes the unspoken reasons include a general increase in hate speech and incitement against Arabs, including Palestinians.
“Whatever the reasons behind this censorship, the result remains the same: the imposition of higher censorship on digital freedoms and rights, especially on oppressed people,” she told Al Jazeera.
In 2021, “social media platforms increased censorship of Palestinian content… 7amleh documented more than 1,000 violations across platforms, with Facebook and Instagram topping the list of the most violating platforms,” said one report published by 7amleh.
In September 2022, a separate report prepared by an independent consultancy commissioned by Meta – the parent company of Facebook and Instagram – acknowledged bias in the platforms’ moderation practices, significantly disproportionately affecting the digital rights of Palestinians and Arabic-speaking users .
The report found that Meta’s practices violated the Palestinians’ right to freedom of expression and assembly, political participation and non-discrimination.
“Elon Musk has wreaked havoc on Twitter since taking over the platform. It has now been gutted,” said Marwa Fatafta, a Palestinian digital rights expert and policy analyst at the al-Shabaka think tank.
“With fewer staff and attention to content moderation and user safety, people are more susceptible to online attacks, censorship and hacking attempts. And as usual, the Palestinians are the canary in the coal mine,” she told Al Jazeera.
Since Musk took over Twitter, he has repeatedly been accused of suspending the accounts of journalists and others for arbitrary reasons or based on personal feuds.
Digital rights experts say he destroyed the platform and fired many staff, including employees of third-party companies who help Twitter moderate content.
“For us Palestinians, we are already coming from a disadvantaged point: we have been systematically censored and subjected to arbitrary and non-transparent account suspensions and content removals,” Fatafta told Al Jazeera.
“We have called on companies to devote more resources to particularly vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed communities where the risk of censorship is greater, such as what happened with Noura,” she said, referring to Erakat, the Palestinian human rights lawyer.
“I don’t think Palestinian activists and journalists are as safe as they should be on Twitter,” Fatafta said. “The situation was not exactly rosy, but it is now getting worse under Musk’s leadership.”