Ex-Meta Worker Sues Over Instagram Bugs Stifling Palestinian Posts

A software developer from the United States who is Palestinian has sued Meta, claiming the social media giant discriminated against him and fired him illegally for looking into allegations of discrimination against Palestinian activists and creators.

In his complaint, which was submitted on Tuesday, the engineer in issue, Ferras Hamad, asserts that he was “scrutinized, interrogated, and terminated because he was of Palestinian national origin and/or Muslim.” Furthermore, according to Hamad, he was fired because he carried out his job duties, which included looking into claims of censorship. He was sacked in February even though he was assigned these investigations to do.

According to Hamad’s lawyers, Meta’s “chronic” and “consistent anti-Palestinian bias” has him as “just the latest victim.” In retaliation, Instagram and Facebook’s parent company, Meta, said on Wednesday that Hamad’s termination was caused by breaches of “data access policies,” not discrimination. Meta stated that the types of data workers can access and when are strictly limited by their internal procedures.

Hamad’s attorneys refute the policy violation claims, asserting that Hamad was performing his duties by investigating whether Palestinian content was being censored. They noted that in October, Hamad was assigned to “assess the quality of Instagram integrity filters as they related to Gaza, Israel, and Ukraine.” The alleged policy violation involved an accusation that Hamad had a personal connection with Motaz Azaiza, a prominent Palestinian photographer while attempting to restore Azaiza’s Instagram account. Hamad’s lawyers maintain this accusation is false and that the two men have never met.

As a machine learning-focused software developer, Hamad joined Meta in March 2022 and worked on location-based recommendations, which included breaking news. When Hamad participated in an internal group discussion about Gaza in December, he thought user complaints were not being addressed according to policy. He learned that Azaiza’s Instagram account had been incorrectly categorized, which had caused it to be taken out of recommendation systems.

Despite voicing these concerns, Hamad apparently received contradictory advice from colleagues to stop his investigations. One team advised that the problem had been rectified, and another team was looking into it. After returning from vacation, Hamad was fired shortly before he was supposed to vest in company stock and get an annual bonus.

“They hit him where it hurts: They punished him through his career, and they punished him significantly financially,” said Hamad’s attorney, Shahmeer Halepota.

Hamad’s lawsuit, filed in Santa Clara County, California, echoes concerns from human rights advocates about Meta’s handling of content related to the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza. Human Rights Watch reported in December that Meta had been suppressing pro-Palestinian voices.

Meta’s Oversight Board also noted the company’s overly broad content removals involving the Arabic word “shaheed.”

In defending its content moderation procedures, Meta claims that while handling content during “fast-moving, highly polarised and intense conflict” can result in errors, intentional suppression of specific views is not acknowledged. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Meta handles articles about Palestine differently than it does posts about other international wars, such as the conflict in Russia and Ukraine.

Another Hamad lawyer, Joe Ahmad, stated, “If you message about loved ones who died or about civilians who died, then you’re treated differently when it comes to Israel or Ukraine.”

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