Facebook parent Meta on Wednesday rolled out a temporary feature to limit “harmful and potentially harmful” content on the Israel Hamas war. The tech giant will now restrict people who can comment on news and public Facebook posts to friends and followers who live in the region, though Meta did not provide a specific definition of what that means. Users will have the option to change this setting at any time.
The change is part of Meta’s efforts to protect people “in the region” from such “unwanted” comments, the company said in an updated statement on Wednesday (October 18). It says it has been reviewing content since the conflict between Israel and Hamas began with a devastating Israeli assault on Gaza on October 7 that killed 1,400 Palestinians. It also claims that more than 795,000 pieces of content have been removed or flagged by its systems. Meta has a team of experts, including fluent Hebrew and Arabic speakers, to help oversee this process.
In addition to limiting commenters to those who live in the area, Meta also removes the ability to view the first one or two comments on posts when scrolling through them. The company said this will make the overall experience better for everyone.
However, some have criticized the change for infringing on free speech. Some have claimed it will prevent people from sharing political opinions, while others have questioned whether the move will lead to censorship.
It’s not the first time Meta has been accused of violating people’s right to free expression. In May of 2021, the company was accused of censoring Palestinians during an earlier clash between Israel and Hamas, with a report finding that Meta’s moderation systems had a much lower accuracy rate when evaluating content in Palestinian Arabic.
On Thursday, Israeli lawmakers accused Meta of suppressing freedom of speech by suspending Knesset member Yaakov Cassif for saying that “Israel wanted this violence.” The parliament’s Ethics Committee ruled that his remarks equated to incitement to violence against Jews and that he was guilty of breaking the law.
While the changes to comments are a step in the right direction, it is unlikely that they will make any significant difference in curbing the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, primarily driven by rhetoric from both sides. The conflict is expected to continue for weeks, and both sides have already committed multiple violations of international law.
The Israeli military has also been criticized for bombing raids that have caused widespread destruction and civilian casualties in Gaza and for imposing a blockade on the territory that many believe is illegal. The United Nations has warned of the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe in the coming months and calls for both sides to end the violence as quickly as possible. For more information, see The Latest: Thousands of Palestinians Suffer As War Escalates Between Israel and Hamas.