A stock photo of a phone on a flat surface, with the Instagram app icon in view on the top left of the phone screen.

Why Is Instagram Censoring a Palestinian Aid Fundraiser?

The Games for Gaza charity bundle on Itch.io is currently sitting at over $300k raised for Palestinian medical aid, but you might not know it with Instagram censoring posts about the bundle. As reported by indie developer Evan Binder, posts using the hashtag #GamesForGaza are conspicuously missing on search, and replaced with a stock message suggesting the posts violated Instagram’s community guidelines.

This kind of limited visibility on Instagram and other social media platforms, commonly referred to as “shadowbanning,” has noticeably been ramping up over the past few weeks in regard to Palestine and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. TechCrunch, The Guardian, and Al Jazeera have all reported that Instagram users and human rights groups receiving disproportionate levels of censorship on posts, stories, and reels that even mention Palestine or Israel’s attacks on Gaza. In response to Evan Binder’s Mastodon post on the game bundle’s censoring, users chimed in with similar stories of donations for Palestinian aid on Instagram itself being blocked as well.

Instagram’s parent company Meta has responded publicly to claims of shadowbanning, suggesting that any deleted or censored posts are the result of ‘fixed bugs’ and settings issues. “We apply these policies equally around the world and there is no truth to the suggestion that we are deliberately suppressing voice.” It’s worth noting that Meta has an active partnership with the Israeli Cyber Unit, with reports of up to 90% compliance rates with takedowns, as reported by EFF.

Critics have countered these claims, noting that footage of the bombing of the al-Ahil hospital in Gaza was reportedly removed for alleged nudity or sexual activity of all things—a prime example of biased content moderation. With claims of bias stretching back to the last major attack on Gaza by Israel in 2021, Palestinian digital rights group 7amleh (a.k.a. the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media) named Meta the most restricting company “in its moderation of the Palestinian digital space in their 2022 report.

Activists have taken to familiar strategies amidst the censoring of Palestinians and posts for Palestinian aid, cutting up words with accents, slashes, and @ signs to make it harder for social media algorithms to block. But considering Instagram has also taken to inserting the word “terrorist” into the translations of Palestinian user bios, it’s clear a systemic change is needed at Meta.

And if you’re looking to grab the Games for Gaza bundle, it’s still available for the next few days, with over 23,000 contributors and counting.

(featured image: Pixabay)

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Joan Zahra Dark
Joan Zahra Dark (they/them) is a freelance writer, organizer, and interdisciplinary artist. They love talking about queer comics, stories that can only be told through interactive mediums, worker cooperatives and gay robots. They’re based in Queens, NYC.