Stop censuring dissent: Activists write open letter to Twitter, Facebook, urging to stop silencing critical voices in MENA
Marking the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring, around 17 human rights organizations from Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have issued a letter to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, condemning their actions to silence critical opinions from marginalised and oppressed communities in the region.
During the Arab Spring, citizens and activists across MENA countries used social media to raise voices and push for social justice and political change. For years now, thousands of peaceful protesters and activists have relied on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to draw the attention of the world to various causes including police brutality and climate change in their respective countries.
However, in recent years, social media platforms have introduced a number of policies and content moderation policies that have resulted in silencing and effacing dissent voices.
In the letter, the signatories have alleged that Facebook and Twitter have censored key activists, journalists, and other changemakers throughout the region.
The signatories including journalists, activists, and human rights organizations said that they have come together to voice their frustration and dismay at the practices of social media platforms in suppressing the opinions of marginalized and oppressed communities across Middle East and North Africa.
“These platforms often fail to protect human rights defenders when concerns are raised,” the statement said.
They added that arbitrary and non-transparent account suspension and removal of political and critical speech have become frequent acts. They have enlisted a number of incidents where Facebook and Twitter disabled the accounts of activists and journalists in countries like Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and Palestine to silent their voices.
“The MENA region has one of the world’s worst records on freedom of expression, and social media remains critical for helping people connect, organize, and document human rights violations and abuses,” the statement added.
In the letter, human rights organisations urged the social media giants to not “be complicit in censorship and erasure of oppressed communities’ narratives and histories.”
They further suggested a number of measures to Facebook and Twitter to ensure that users are treated fairly and they are able to voice their opinion freely.
They called on the social media giants to actively engage activists, local users, human rights defenders and civil society members from MENA countries in a bid to address the concerns of unfair discrimination. In addition, they called on the social media platforms to invest in regional expertise to design and implement context-based content moderation decisions in line with the prevailing human rights frameworks across the MENA region.
Human rights defenders also appealed the platforms to pay special focus on such incidents related to war and conflict zones in a bid to ensure that content moderation procedures do not target marginalized communities in the region. It will also help in ensuring greater transparency across the platforms.