March 26, 2024

Warren, Sanders Slam Zuckerberg, Meta for Suppression of Palestinian-Related Content, Urge Greater Transparency

“It is deeply troubling that Meta refuses to acknowledge and address the discriminatory nature of its content removal practices, despite being presented with a plethora of evidence.”

Legislation, like Senator Warren’s Digital Consumer Protection Commission Act, would increase transparency around algorithmic decision making on Big Tech platforms. 

Letter Text (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sent a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, slamming his continued secrecy around Meta’s content moderation policies and censorship of Palestinian-related content on Instagram and Facebook. The letter follows a December 2023 letter from Warren to Zuckerberg, in which Warren inquired about disturbing reports that Meta suppressed Palestine-related content following Hamas’s deadly October 7 attacks.

“(Meta) did not provide any of the requested information necessary to understand (its) treatment of Arabic language or Palestine-related content versus other forms of content,” wrote Senators Warren and Sanders. “It is imperative that Meta provide this information so the American people and their elected representatives can understand the impact of Meta’s policies on those communities and public debate.”

While Meta generally hides comments designated as violating a platform’s policies only when its content moderation systems are 80% certain a violation has occurred, in the days following the October 7 attack, it lowered that threshold for users in the Palestinian territories to 25%. Public reports and Meta’s track record on moderation of content originating in the region suggest that this censorship was over-enforced on Palestinian and Palestinian-related content. 

In response to Senator Warren’s initial letter detailing these concerns and requesting further information on Meta’s content suppression, Meta admitted that it “removed or marked as disturbing” more than 2.2 million pieces of content in Hebrew and Arabic in the nine days following October 7 after making ad-hoc changes to its content moderation policies to lower the threshold for content it considered to have violated its terms. Despite denying the discrimination against Palestinian-related content on its platforms, Meta did not share any evidence to support this claim, or any of the data Senator Warren requested on the language or originating area of the content — making it impossible to determine whether Meta may have acted in a biased way.  

“These concerns (over Meta’s content moderation policies) are not new. For years, civil society organizations have called on Meta to address systems and practices that result in disproportionate censorship of Palestinians,” continued Senators Warren and Sanders. “It is deeply troubling that Meta refuses to acknowledge and address the discriminatory nature of its content removal practices, despite being presented with a plethora of evidence to this effect.”

“Social media users deserve to know when and why their accounts and posts are restricted, and to receive protection against discrimination and hate speech. Meta’s response reveals the company’s unwillingness to explain how and why these decisions appear to be having a discriminatory impact. This lack of answers underscores the need for meaningful regulation of the largest tech platforms. Legislative proposals like the bipartisan Digital Consumer Protection Commission Act would increase transparency around algorithmic decision making on major online platforms,” concluded Senators Warren and Sanders.

Senator Warren has been a leader on oversight of Big Tech companies:

  • On December 14, 2023, Senator Warren sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg regarding disturbing reports that Meta is suppressing or mistranslating Palestinian and Palestine-related content following Hamas’s deadly October 7 attacks. 
  • On July 27, 2023, Senator Warren unveiled comprehensive legislation that would rein in Big Tech by establishing a new commission to regulate online platforms.
  • On February 15, 2023, Senator Warren delivered a speech on the fight to protect our economy and democracy from corporate monopolies, including Big Tech.
  • On July 11, 2022, Senator Warren sent letters to Facebook and Instagram, calling on them to address their reported censorship of posts related to abortion services, following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
  • On July 7, 2022, Senator Warren announced two key data brokers’ commitments to permanently stop selling the location data of people seeking abortion services.
  • On June 2, 2022, Senator Warren sent a letter to Amazon’s President and CEO, Andy Jassy, demanding answers about the company’s proposed worker chat application, which reportedly would ban workers from using certain words and phrases, restricting their ability to discuss their working conditions and basic legal rights, including unionization.