Meta faces lawsuit after “unlawful” termination of Palestinian-American software engineer

Meta faces lawsuit after “unlawful” termination of Palestinian-American software engineer

Meta is facing lawsuits on the grounds of unlawful termination after a former engineer, Ferras Hamad, accused the company of bias in its handling of content related to the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza and discrimination in his dismissal. Hamad claims Meta fired him for trying to fix bugs that suppressed Palestinian posts on its social media platforms, notably Instagram.

 

This marks a continuation of accusations that Meta is suppressing content critical of Israeli actions in Palestinian territory. As discussed by impACT in November 2023, amid mounting criticisms and evidence of censorship on their platforms during Israel’s ongoing assault on Palestinians in Gaza, particularly Instagram, an independent report from Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) in 2022, revealed the “over-enforcement” of Terms of Service for content related to the Occupation of Palestine. The report came a year after 200 Meta employees demanded investigation, after Israel forcibly removed Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah in 2021, and content related to Israeli military operations were removed. In response to this conclusion, Meta promised that this ‘over-enforcement’ of, particularly Arabic content, would be rectified. However, evidence from the past 9 months illustrates that this has not been effective, a conclusion also established by Human Rights Watch who accused the Tech Giant of “systemic censorship of Palestine content on Instagram and Facebook”.

 

Of course, this has been consistent problem across the tech industry. Giants like Google, have also come under scrutiny this year after accusations of unlawful termination based on employees political views. Google dismissed an employee who protested against the company's involvement with Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion agreement to supply Israel and its military with cloud services. This employee accused Google of complicity in Israel's treatment of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been widely recognised by legal experts, and several countries alike, as genocide.

 

"Project Nimbus puts Palestinian community members in danger," the former Google employee, and software engineer said. A Google spokesperson told Middle East Eye that the employee was terminated for "interfering with an official company-sponsored event".

 

Ferras Hamad, a Palestinian-American engineer who has been working on Meta’s machine learning since 2021, sued Meta in California for discrimination, wrongful termination, and other wrongdoing. Hamad brought to light Meta’s ongoing pattern of bias against Palestinians, saying that the company deleted internal employee communications that mentioned the deaths of their relatives in Gaza, as well as the use of the Palestinian flag emoji.

 

Hamad revealed that he found a short video, posted by photojournalist Motaz Aziza, had been misclassified as pornographic even though it showed a destroyed building in Gaza.

 

Meta claims that Hamad’s dismissal was on the grounds of violating the company’s "data access policies," which set limits on what employees can do with different types of data. However, Meta had told Hamad that he was fired for violating a policy that barred employees from working on issues with accounts of people they know personally, referring to Azaiza, to whom Hamad had no personal connection.

 

Meta has previously confirmed that they introduced measures on their platforms that aimed to limit “potentially unwelcome or unwanted comments” in October, regarding the assault on Gaza. These changes adjusted default settings for those who can comment on new and public posts by users “in the region” to only their friends and followers. While Meta claimed this was to “keep people safe on our apps,” these measures effectively suppressed and restricted the voices of those in "the region," which remains undisclosed.

 

The wrongful termination of employees for their political views and the suppression of specific political content reflects a broader pattern in the tech industry, and these practices undermine free speech and contribute to the marginalisation of already vulnerable communities.

 

Tech giants have a long way to go to ensure that their platforms aren’t violating international human rights on a global scale, and that they as companies aren’t complicit in the deaths of tens of thousands of individuals. They also have a duty to ensure that their users are conscious of their censoring of information on platforms, and how they treat their employees.

 

The Digital Services Act (DSA) in the EU and the Online Safety Act (OSA) in the UK require companies to provide transparency in content moderation and protect users' rights. By aligning their policies with these regulations, tech companies can demonstrate their commitment to human rights and ethical practices.

To enhance their commitment to human rights, tech companies like Meta and Google should go beyond adherence to the DSA and OSA. Strengthening whistleblower protections is crucial to safeguard employees from reporting unethical or illegal practices. Regular, independent audits of content moderation and employee treatment are necessary to ensure compliance with human rights standards. Establishing robust grievance mechanisms will allow employees to confidentially report discrimination or wrongful termination without fear of retribution. Lastly, engaging diverse stakeholders, including human rights organisations, in policy development will ensure comprehensive and fair policies. By adopting these recommendations, tech companies can better protect human rights, support free speech, and ensure fair treatment of their employees.

 

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