Senator Mehreen Faruqi – Estimates questions to the e-Safety Commissioner regarding Meta’s shadow banning of content that voices support for Palestine

photo of Senator Mehreen Faruqi
October 24, 2023

There have been other concerns raised by social media users regarding the shadow banning of content that voices support for Palestinians by Meta, which obviously owns Facebook and Instagram.

CHAIR: We’ll rotate and come back to you. I will take the opportunity to advise that we will not be seeing the Classification Board, we will not be seeing the Classification Review Board, and we will release the department at outcome 6.1. So we will just be finishing up with the eSafety Commissioner, and then, hopefully, we’ll get to NBN Co as well, but everyone else is free to go. Senator Faruqi.

Senator FARUQI: You may be aware, Commissioner, that it was revealed recently that Meta, specifically on Instagram, translated the bios of users who supported Palestine and used the word ‘alhamdulillah’, written in Arabic, to say ‘terrorist’ in English. To be precise, the issue affected users with the word ‘Palestinian’ written in English on their profile, the Palestinian flag emoji and the word ‘alhamdulillah’ written in Arabic. When autotranslated to English, the phrase read, ‘Praise be to God, Palestinian terrorists are fighting for their freedom.’ You are aware of this issue; I can see you nodding. Do you think this is an issue of online safety for ordinary Australians who are either Palestinian, Arab or trying to support Palestinian voices on social media, who are then being labelled as terrorists by Meta? Have you communicated with Meta about this?

Ms Inman Grant : I have not communicated with Meta about this. I just read about this yesterday in my clips, and I thought it was very unfortunate. This is a time of heightened sensitivity, and Facebook and Meta have been around since 2004. They do invest in content moderators that speak a range of languages. In fact, that was an online safety issue that we looked at in our latest basic online safety transparency report because there is such a huge variation. Some companies, like Google and TikTok, may have content moderators in-house in more than 70 languages, but there are companies like Twitter that only have 12, which means that they have to outsource and they risk even more precision. For any of us that have a role in dealing with any form of online hate or any propagation of potential terrorism, it needs to be very precise in terms of how it’s labelled and discussed. I saw that they gave an apology, but I will commit to you to look further into it to see whether they can provide us, as the regulator, with further information as to why that happened and how they will prevent that from happening again.

Senator FARUQI: Thank you very much for that. There have been other concerns raised by social media users regarding the shadow banning of content that voices support for Palestinians by Meta, which obviously owns Facebook and Instagram. One example I have is of Fatima Bhutto, who is an internationally acclaimed author, and who was shadow-banned by Meta on Instagram for sharing content on Palestine and Israeli bombardment. Her comments were shut off so people could no longer thoroughly engage with the post, and the posts were de-prioritised. I imagine she’s not the only one. We have heard from others as well. Is this suppression of marginalised voices by Meta a concern to you?

Ms Inman Grant : Anything that we could verify as a suppression of voices would be of concern. But that would be another thing that we would have to really interrogate because each of the platforms have their own terms of service, in terms of what violates the terms of service. Without being able to validate what was said to have violated their policies that would result in a temporary or permanent suspension—that would be something we would need to ask about and interrogate further.

Senator FARUQI: If you could ask about that and interrogate that, that would be really good, because what I’m hearing is that there is censorship happening, at this point in time, of Palestinian voices, so I’d really appreciate that.

Ms Inman Grant : Sure thing.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard