Israel’s attack is an attempted blackout through bombs and censorship

The past few days have seen censorship and an attempted blackout of journalists and documentation critical of Israel’s attack on Palestine. Missile attacks and strategic pressure on social media platforms are among the weapons Israel is utilising to control the narrative.

On 15 May, Israeli bombs hit the building where several media outlets, including Associated Press and Al-Jazeera, have had their offices in Gaza for years. Journalists were warned shortly beforehand, so in this particular instance no lives were lost. The same cannot be said elsewhere in Palestine. As a result of the attack – which violates all international humanitarian law – the outside world now has less access to documentation of the war crimes and human rights violations taking place.

But Israel does not only use conventional weapons in their attempt to control the narrative. What we are seeing can best be characterised as social media companies’ complicity in the oppression of Palestinians, as pawns in Israel’s game to hide what is happening from the rest of the world.

When the Israeli authorities stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque – Islam’s third most holy site – at the start of the conflict, the hashtag associated with the mosque was censored on Instagram. The entire platform blocked more or less everything relevant from Jerusalem just as the Israeli attack was taking place. More than 200 Palestinians were injured.

Over the last 10 days, photos and videos on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that show examples of police violence and can document how violent right-wing Israeli extremist groups have attacked Palestinians have been removed. It is not only freedom of expression that is being suppressed, but also documentation for potential subsequent legal proceedings.

IMS works to support independent media and access to information. Through our partners in Palestine, we have documented over the course of several years how major social media platforms, especially Facebook, Instagram, Google/YouTube and Twitter, have censored Palestinian content. What we are seeing now is a violent escalation where thousands of photos and videos are being removed – along with hundreds of accounts – and member-based groups are being closed.

Instagram and Twitter have both regretted how they handled the attack on Al-Aqsa and referred to technical errors, but the problems continue. There is no openness or transparency from Big Tech companies on how they make decisions that effectively lead to the further oppression of the Palestinian people. Add to the fact that the degree of online hate speech directed towards Palestinians has increased massively over a long period of time. Facebook often defers to local legislation, which in this case is established by the Israeli authorities.

The knife got an extra twist on 15 May when the Gaza offices of major media outlets, including Associated Press, were bombed.

News, knowledge and documentation are essential for us to act – as individuals, but also as an international community. The responsibility to protect not only civilians but also journalists lies with power-holders – the governments of individual countries. But it is also, to a degree, the responsibility of Facebook, Google, Instagram and Twitter.

While governments fail blatantly and tech companies apologise for their technical problems, Israel continues its effort to obscure and distort the narrative to its own advantage. We are witnesses to the abuse and killing of civilians, as well as to information warfare. To believe otherwise is naïve. The working conditions to counter information warfare are difficult. Foreign journalists, for example, cannot get into Gaza, but luckily there are many talented local Palestinian journalists and rights activists that put their lives at risk to bring facts to light. And they are continuing their work, despite censorship and missile attacks.