Instagram removed and restricted posts related to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem after its moderators confused its name with a group designated as a terrorist organization. In an internal company message first obtained by BuzzFeed News, a lead on the company’s Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy team called the removals “enforcement errors.”
Facebook, which owns Instagram, provided a copy of the internal post to The Verge. In it, the employee wrote: “While Al-Aqsa (الأقصى) refers to a location, it is also unfortunately included in the names of several restricted organizations – by itself, however, this term should not and does not violate our policies.”
BuzzFeed News reports that there is an armed group known as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades which is deemed a terrorist entity by the United States and European Union, and other groups with similar names are considered parts of its support network by the US government.
Removal of the posts comes as the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, has been at the center of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians. It’s part of a wider escalating crisis that has claimed the lives of at least 72 people in Gaza, including 16 children, and seven people in Israel, The Guardian reported on Thursday. When trying to share footage highlighting the violence at the mosque, Instagram users found that their posts were being restricted from view or were being removed entirely, according to BuzzFeed News.
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
“To be clear – we have never designated the Al-Aqsa Mosque under our Dangerous Organizations policy, but rather an organization with the name ‘Al-Aqsa,’” the internal Facebook post said. “[A]ny removals based solely on a mention of the name of the mosque are certainly enforcement errors and they never should have happened under our policies.”
The post goes on to say that Facebook has a legal obligation to remove posts that support or represent organizations sanctioned by the US, although it will not remove news reporting or condemnation of such groups. The employee said Facebook was updating its guidance to moderators, that it had removed the term “Al-Aqsa” from its moderation list, and that it has replaced it with a more descriptive alias of the sanctioned organization.