Pro-Palestinian activists are running a coordinated campaign to downgrade Facebook app reviews to protest the company’s alleged censorship of Palestinian accounts and posts.
The strategy seems to be working. Last week, the average star rating for the social network dropped from over 4 out of 5 to 2.3 out of 5 on the Apple App Store and from 2.4 out of 5 on the Google Play Store on Saturday night after thousands of one-star Ratings were received. Many of the reviews include comments mentioning Facebook silencing Palestinian voices and hashtags like #FreePalestine or #GazaUnderAttack.
The campaign is taken very seriously on Facebook and classified as SEV1. This stands for “Severity 1”, a descriptor that is used internally when there is a major problem with the website. This is evident from screenshots of internal message boards verified by NBC News. A SEV1 is the second highest priority site event after SEV0, which is used when the website is not available.
“With the recent escalation between Israel and Palestine, user trust is declining significantly,” said a senior software developer in a post on Facebook’s internal message board. “Our users are annoyed with how the situation is handled. Users feel like they are being censored, given limited distribution, and ultimately silenced. As a result, our users started protesting by giving 1-star reviews. “
According to leaked screenshots of internal discussions, Facebook contacted the app stores to ask if they would remove the negative reviews. Apple declined, according to a post from a Facebook employee who said she reached out to Apple’s developer relations team about the issue.
Facebook, Twitter and other social networks have been accused of censoring Palestinian voices for years Deletion of Pro-Palestinian Posts and AccountsDuring the conflict between Israel and Hamas earlier this month, Palestinians and their supporters said the problem had worsened.
Access Now, a non-profit advocating for digital rights, has documented many examples on a Twitter thread, including Instagram restricting the hashtag for Al-Aqsa Mosque, the site of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian believers earlier this month, and Twitter, which the Report by the American-Palestinian writer Mariam Barghouti.
“Our guidelines are designed to give everyone a voice and at the same time protect them in our apps. We apply these guidelines equally, regardless of who posts or what personal beliefs they have,” said Andy Stone, spokesman for Facebook, in a statement. “We have a dedicated team made up of Arabic and Hebrew speakers who closely monitor the situation on the ground and focus on removing harmful content and fixing any enforcement errors as quickly as possible.”
Google and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.