Instagram blocks messages on al-Aqsa mosque mistaking it for terrorist hashtag

·2-min read
Israeli police intervene Palestinians guarding Al-Aqsa Mosque to prevent raids by extremist Jews - Eyad Tawil/Anadolu Agency 
Israeli police intervene Palestinians guarding Al-Aqsa Mosque to prevent raids by extremist Jews - Eyad Tawil/Anadolu Agency

Instagram has removed posts naming the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem after mistakenly associating it with a terrorist organisation, according to a leaked company message.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, said in the message that “al-Aqsa” is often “included in the names of several restricted organisations”.

No organisations were directly named in the internal memo, but Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has been classified as a terrorist body by the US State Department. Numerous other organisations including “al-Aqsa” in their name and have been sanctioned.

It has added another point of tension during one of the worst spasms of communal violence Israel has seen in years - and comes as the Israeli military is drawing up plans to invade Gaza, while a fresh wave of riots led to 400 arrests overnight.

“I want to apologise for the frustration these mistakes have caused,” a Facebook employee said, admitting that content had been removed accidentally, in a memo shared with the New York Times.

The employee, who works on the issue of “dangerous organisations” said the company understands the “vital importance” of the mosque to Palestinians and Muslims.

“These mistakes are painful, erode the trust of our community and there is no easy fix for that,” they said.

“I want to reaffirm that these removals are strictly enforcement errors. We understand the vital importance of the al-Aqsa mosque to Palestinians and the Muslim community around the world.”

Social media platforms have already come under fire for allegedly censoring Palestinians.

As they face eviction, Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood said social media posts were removed and their accounts blocked after they voiced their outrage.

On Monday, more than 200 complaints about suspended accounts and posts relating to Sheikh Jarrah were made to 7amleh, a nonprofit organisation focused on social media.

Rights organisations have compared the removals to censorship and called for further investigations.

“We're demanding clarity on this censorship, and system glitches are no longer accepted as an excuse," Marwa Fatafta, Middle East and North Africa policy advisor for Access Now, a nonprofit protecting digital freedoms, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Instagram and Twitter blamed the issue on technical errors. In a statement Twitter said it had “reversed these actions to reinstate access to the affected accounts”.

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