‘7or’ aims to hold social media companies accountable by allowing users to report instances when they believe their posts are wrongly taken down.
An online tool dedicated to documenting, monitoring, and following up on the digital rights violations experienced by Palestinians was launched on November 1.
Called The Palestinian Observatory of Digital Rights Violations, or '7or' (pronounced Hhorr, “free” in Arabic), the platform allows Palestinians to report and search through the database of violations, offering a robust, evidence-based approach to tackling digital censorship.
The first of its kind in Palestine and the region, the platform was built by 7amleh, a Palestinian digital rights NGO which has been documenting violations on social media platforms and Palestine-related censorship for several years.
Check out the Palestinian Digital Rights Violations Monitor (7or), a new platform launched by 7amleh, through which the center seeks to enhance its work in monitoring, documentation, and following up on digital rights violations!https://t.co/wkbTHZzsNr pic.twitter.com/q2BvzAKM6e— 7amleh حملة (@7amleh) November 1, 2021
The development of 7or is significant in light of the mass censorship that targeted Palestinian content on social media in May during the Israeli war on Gaza and attempted ethnic cleansing in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem.
“We have seen a clear issue emerging across all social media platforms when it comes to over-moderating Palestinian content and limiting their voices,” 7amleh co-founder and director Nadim Nashif tells TRT World.
Nashif underlines how this trend was brought into sharp focus in May, when Facebook and Twitter removed Palestinian content and accounts that described human rights abuses being documented on the ground, while failing to provide transparency on their moderation policies.
“In response, we [7amleh] documented these violations and we could take them directly to the platforms themselves,” he says. “7or is the next step of this process, and is the only platform available for Palestinians to report digital violations.”
Ramallah-based freelance journalist Faten Alwan was one such victim of an attack on three of her social media accounts back in May.
“During the last confrontation, my TikTok, Instagram and Facebook accounts were under attack with a high level of censorship,” she says. Her videos were removed in supposed violation of the platforms’ community guidelines.
Alwan’s Facebook and Instagram accounts were hacked, while her TikTok was temporarily blocked. Thanks to 7amleh, she managed to gain access to her TikTok and Instagram accounts – but not Facebook as of yet.
“Only after Sheikh Jarrah, did we experience this level of censorship,” Alwan tells TRT World, adding that Palestinian content was blocked for three to four months following the war.
Holding social media companies accountable
The platform comprises of two main tools: one which enables users to submit violation reports and another that generates data extracted from the reports.
Because detailed data can be collected on each case, it can produce more systematic analysis of patterns in content moderation.
“The platform allows us to collect examples of the diverse discrimination that Palestinians experience from social platforms, as well as providing in-depth statistics and analysis of the variety and frequency of these digital rights violations,” Nashif explains.
“We want to make it easier for Palestinians to have a voice when it comes to social media content policies, and for journalists and researchers to have access to robust statistics concerning over-moderation when it comes to Palestine.”
Tayma Abdalhadi, an international relations and computer science student at Birzeit University, believes 7or will provide “a trustable, secure and easy way to speak up and demand the violations to stop and the bias to end.”
“Having this platform means having data on our own terms,” she tells TRT World.
For those like Alwan, prior to 7amleh there existed no official means for assistance on matters related to digital censorship. Avenues like the Facebook help centre were never effective, leaving more risky options like enlisting hackers to help with account retrievals.
Instead of relying on the goodwill of Big Tech and digital mercenaries, 7or gives users the ability to log their own cases and build a culture of reporting through encouraging people “to share what they went through,” says Abdalhadi.
As a journalist, Alwan emphasises how important it is to have access to a database. “Now, we have a way to account for in real-time all the violations that happen.”
The launch of 7or takes place at a time when leaked internal research from Facebook showed how the social media giant has a blind spot when it came to reviewing posts in Arabic dialects. Documents revealed the company’s troubling use of AI in content moderation, where Facebook algorithms used to identify terrorist content in Arabic had a 77 percent inaccuracy rate.
Nashif points to how last month’s leaked Facebook papers and Facebook’s Oversight Board investigation into anti-Palestinian bias shows how discrimination against Palestinians is something the platform is “very aware of, but has not done enough to address.”
Eventually, the idea is to utilise the data from 7or to stimulate long-term changes in social media policies and provide a greater degree of transparency.
“With 7or, we will be able to provide transparency and data that demonstrates the harmfulness of vague content-moderation policies,” Nashif says.
“By applying pressure to the platforms, we hope to encourage them to build transparency, openness and respect for human rights into their policies.”