Instagram removed the platform, restricted posts, and banned hashtags related to one of the holiest Islamic mosques because its content management system mistakenly linked the place to a classification the company maintains for terrorist organizations.
The mistake represents a new supervisory failure by Instagram and its parent company Facebook, which has faced accusations from users around the world of censoring content related to the Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.
In an internal letter to the company, the leader of the company’s dangerous organizations and personnel policy team called the removal operations executive mistakes after the platform’s supervisors confused the mosque’s name with a group designated as a terrorist organization.
Facebook, which owns the Instagram platform, provided a copy of the internal post, which said: While Al-Aqsa refers to a location, it is also listed in the names of many banned organizations, however, this term should not violate our policies.
Reports stated that there is an armed group known as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist entity, and other groups with similar names are part of their support network by the US government.
The removal of the posts comes at a time when the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in the Islamic faith, was at the center of the clashes between the Israeli police and the Palestinians, many of whom went there to pray on the last days of Ramadan.
Some notices showed that Instagram removed the posts because they were associated with violence or dangerous organizations, and when employees learned of the removals and the justifications behind them, some of them lodged internal complaints.
A Facebook employee wrote via an internal communications platform: These errors and many other errors are unacceptable, as Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam and is an essential aspect of faith for about 1.8 billion people.
When trying to share footage highlighting the violence in the mosque, Instagram users found their posts were blocked or removed entirely.
Given that people use Instagram and Facebook to spread information, from the forced evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem to the violence in Al-Aqsa, some have found that their posts have been blocked or removed.
The internal publication stated: We have never classified Al-Aqsa Mosque according to the policy of dangerous organizations, but rather an organization bearing the name of Al-Aqsa, and the removals that are based on mentioning the name of the mosque only are definitely executive mistakes and should not happen in light of our policies.
The internal post added: Facebook is legally obligated to remove posts that support or represent organizations that the United States imposes sanctions on, although it will not remove news reports or condemn such groups.
Facebook updated its directives to supervisors, removing the term Al-Aqsa from the list of moderators and replacing it with a pseudonym more describing the sanctioned organization.
The blocked hashtag is "#AlAqsa" written in Arabic, the third holiest mosque in Islam that Palestinian folks got stun-grenaded & tear-gassed at during their Ramadan prayer earlier today.— Rami Ismail (رامي) (@tha_rami) May 8, 2021
It's like blocking "#StatueOfLiberty" when police are brutalizing innocent people there. https://t.co/nLkoL6xr9R