Will Meta’s Temporary Changes Ensure Safer Conversations in the Israel-Hamas Conflict?

19 October, 2023 - 11:45 am (42 days ago)
1 min read

In light of the escalating tensions between Israel and Hamas, social media behemoth Meta has instated temporary alterations to its comment settings on Facebook posts. This action aims to shield individuals within the affected region from potential harassment or unwanted commentary.

Under the new configuration, public posts will restrict comments solely to friends and acknowledged followers of the original poster. Traditionally, Facebook’s public posts are open for commentary by the entire community, making this measure particularly notable. While the exact geographical area affected remains unspecified by Meta, indications point towards a wide coverage of individuals in the proximity of the ongoing conflict.

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Features and Functionalities

Meta is also introducing tools to empower users. For one, the company will allow users to easily mass-delete comments. Furthermore, the usual practice of displaying the initial comments under a post in the feed has been suspended.

Another safeguard for users “in the region” is the profile “lock” tool, a feature that facilitates hiding certain public parts of a user’s profile and restricts non-friends from accessing a full-scale version of profile images.

Content Moderation Controversies

The backdrop to these decisions is twofold: a surge in social media-based hostilities related to the conflict and accusations against Meta concerning content moderation. Over the past week, several users contended that their posts highlighting the situation in Gaza and the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been unduly suppressed. This phenomenon, termed “shadowbanning,” led to substantial concerns.

In response, Meta identified and rectified a software glitch that inadvertently reduced the visibility of Stories and other re-shared posts on a global scale. The company emphasized that this bug didn’t discriminate based on content topic, affecting users universally.

Previous concerns have also been voiced regarding Meta’s approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict. For instance, in 2021, a study commissioned by Meta revealed that the company’s moderation systems disproportionately penalized posts in Palestinian Arabic, leading to numerous users receiving unwarranted account strikes.

While Meta has been steadfast in its commitment to creating a safe online environment, it remains a challenging task amidst real-world tensions. The company’s stance on designating groups like Hamas as “dangerous” has sparked debate, particularly when content moderation seems to overlap with freedom of expression rights.

The current measures, albeit temporary, shed light on the intricate balance social media platforms must strike in times of geopolitical unrest. The tools and policies, while protective, also underscore the broader challenges of moderating vast amounts of content while ensuring users feel both heard and safe.

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Bilgesu Erdem

tech and internet savvy, cat lover.

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