Facebook deploys special team as Israel-Gaza conflict spreads across social media

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FILE PHOTO: Streaks of lights are seen from Ashkelon as rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel

By Elizabeth Culliford

(Reuters) -Facebook Inc set up a 24-7 "special operations center" last week to respond to content posted on its platform about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid violence in the region, the company said on Wednesday.

Misinformation, hate speech and calls for violence about the conflict have circulated on social media platforms amid the deadly fighting.

"This operations center allows us to closely monitor the situation so we can remove content that violates our community standards faster, while also addressing possible errors in enforcement," Monika Bickert, Facebook's vice president of content policy, told reporters on a conference call.

Facebook has previously set up similar operations centers to focus on situations like global elections.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told Reuters that Facebook's head of global affairs, Nick Clegg, and other executives had on Tuesday spoken to Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. Facebook executives previously met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz via Zoom, Politico reported last week.

A Reuters fact-checking team has debunked images shared on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that falsely claim https://www.reuters.com/article/factcheck-gaza-child/fact-check-photo-shows-a-palestinian-child-mopping-up-cow-blood-in-his-parents-slaughterhouse-it-is-unrelated-to-the-current-violence-in-gaza-and-israel-idUSL2N2N627T to be related to the conflict.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Jewish extremists had formed new groups on WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned encrypted messaging service, for the purpose of committing violence against Palestinians.

"As a private messaging service, we do not have access to the contents of people's personal chats though when information is reported to us, we take action to ban accounts we believe may be involved in causing imminent harm," a WhatsApp spokesman said. "We also quickly respond to valid legal requests from law enforcement for the limited information available to us."

Social media platforms have also faced accusations of censorship. Last week, BuzzFeed News reported that Facebook-owned Instagram had mistakenly removed content about al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem where Israeli security police clashed with worshippers.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation also reported that Instagram and Twitter Inc had blamed glitches https://reut.rs/3ouaf0t for the deletion of posts mentioning the possible eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem.

Facebook has banned Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas from its platform and removes content praising the group regarded by Israel, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist group.

Facebook's Bickert said the new operations center was staffed by experts, including native Arabic and Hebrew speakers. California-based Facebook has been criticized in the past for lacking local language expertise and resources amid violent situations in other countries.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York; Editing by Kenneth Li, Matthew Lewis and Howard Goller)