Why Facebook Won't Bring Peace to the Middle EastS

Facebook, which claims its goal is to let users share their lives. has been accused of censoring posts about the fighting in Gaza. So much for Mark Zuckerberg's dreams of breaking down global barriers.

Last March, at the SXSW Interactive Web conference, Zuckerberg spoke at length about how the connections Middle Eastern youth make on Facebook could lead them away from religious extremism. It's a theme he's returned to time and again. But how Zuckerberg thinks they're going to connect when his site's not even letting them talk isn't clear. Users report that posts are getting deleted apparently for even mentioning words like "Gaza" or "Palestine."

Why Facebook Won't Bring Peace to the Middle EastS

What's curious about the claims of censorship is that censors are supposed to have an agenda. If Facebook has one, it seems to be against anything vaguely controversial: Both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian forces are outraged by mysterious deletions of Facebook content mentioning the current crisis.

What's really going on? The site's self-policing mechanisms, which allow users to report "inappropriate content," seem to be to blame. The flagging system, meant to prevent the posting of porn where minors can see it, is easily abused by people with a political agenda. And with only 800 employees overseeing 140 million users, it's impossible for Facebook customer service to keep up with all the disputes.

It's a perfect illustration of Zuckerberg's twisted-up ambitions. On the one hand, he wants Facebook to be a reflection of the real world, as it is: a reflection of our real social relationships, and perhaps our very emotions. And yet he also wants to make it a better place. Giving people on Facebook a free hand to censor each others' words serves neither end.

Of course, everyone's against censorship until they're for it. Here's something that will likely offend the true believers on both sides of the conflict — the tales of Saar Netanel, a gay Israeli Jerusalem city council member, and Bodi, a Palestinian drag performer who claims Hamas is hounding him out of the country:


(Photo by AP/Eyad Baba)