Digital Censorship: Bella Hadid & Instagram
By: Menal Elmaliki / Arab America Contributing Writer
“I swear to the Lord
I still can’t see
Why Democracy means
Everybody but me.”
-Langston Hughes, The Black Man Speaks
They know everything about us, and we know nothing about them.
In this new age of technology, the phrase, “they know everything about us, and we know nothing about them,” is quite popular and it refers to big tech and corporate companies who censor journalists and activists that share different political views. Much of the digital world has become illusory as platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have been accused of censoring varied political opinions and have even gone so far as to censor Bella Hadid’s pro-Palestinian content.
Bella Hadid was born October 9, 1996, and is a reputable American model of Dutch and Palestinian heritage. Her mother was former dutch model and her father a Palestinian Jordanian real estate developer. She began her modeling career at the age of 16 and since then has boomed into the fashion scene, appearing in modeling projects, campaigns and runways.
Recently, the media headlines were engulfed with controversy surrounding Instagram and popular model Bella Hadid. She accused Instagram of censoring her Palestinian post after they disabled her from posting. She had reposted a video of an Israeli officer assaulting an elderly Palestinian man, Israel officials had assaulted worshippers at Al-Aqsa mosque at the time.
“My Instagram has disabled me from posting on my story – pretty much only when it is Palestine based I’m going to assume,” Hadid wrote on her Instagram. She further stated, “My Instagram has disabled me from posting on my story – pretty much only when it is Palestine based, I’m going to assume.“
She continues, “When I post about Palestine, I get immediately shadow banned and almost 1 million less of you see my stories and posts.”
Shadow banning, otherwise known as ghost banning, comment ghosting, or stealth banning, is the act of blocking a particular user or audience from some areas of an online community or website. Certain words or phrases can be shadow banned from search engines and social media sites. Many who are victims of censorship claim that their accounts are either restricted or deleted.
This was not the first incident that had occurred between Bella and Instagram. She previously posted a photo of her father’s passport, showing his birthplace as Palestine and it was immediately deleted by Instagram.
There is an unevenness in the usage of digital communication platforms, it seems to bend for one and break with the other. Israel uses social media to abuse and censor Palestinians while they propagate disinformation and fake news. “Tech giants have come under intense scrutiny, finding themselves accused of censoring Palestinian content, of failing to crack down on disinformation, and allowing the incitement of violence. Platforms were also manipulated and used as vehicles of state propaganda.”
Censorship on Instagram has an impact on marginalized and vulnerable communities, like the Palestinians. Many activists, journalist, and public figures have accused Instagram of either deleting their posts or story, shadow-banning their account, and have even gone as far as deleting their entire Instagram accounts. Amongst those victims of censorship is Palestinian activist Mohamed el-Kurd who recounts that his “his Instagram Stories had received less engagement and fewer views for unexplained reason.”
Omar Suleyman claimed his Instagram had stop working after he posted a video of Al Aqsa being attacked. It’s not even the views that are being banned but the simple act of sharing posts, photos, etc. “Instagram has denied the existence of “shadow-banning,”” despite overwhelming evidence.
A digital rights non-profit, 7amleh, accuse this platform of digital discrimination, having reported the removal of nearly 500 Palestinian content between the May 6 to May 19.
Many of these social networking companies like, lack transparency and their actions are not aligned with their policies. “Free speech and digital rights organizations, including ARTICLE 19, are urging Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, to be transparent about what has happened and to do everything it can to ensure people can share the vital information they need during the current crisis. Accounts and content that were taken down should be reinstated in line with Facebook’s Corporate Human Rights Policy, which explicitly references international human rights treaties.”
Social networking claim that they play a key role in protecting free speech, yet their opaqueness has unveiled their pseudo efforts in supporting and maintaining democratic values such as freedom of speech. Millions of users turn to social media to document human right abuses and share relief efforts of those in crisis, since the mainstream media turns a blind eye or fails to pick up on these stories.
Why is Supporting Palestine Censored
Why is it that these platforms censor Palestinian content and what does it mean to be pro-Palestinian? The reality is that the mere disseminating of information, photos, videos, of the daily subjugation and abuse of Palestinians will either get you shadow-banned, blocked, or deleted. Many Israeli supporters claim that supporting Palestine is supporting terrorism. It is the typical classic tale of terrorist or freedom fighter.
How do we categorize Palestine and Israel, as a varied political expression? But when has human rights become a hate speech or a varied political expression? There is an agenda at play, especially when pro-Israel donors spend millions of dollars in lobbying with the intention of influencing US policy.
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