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Facebook and Instagram Confront Historically Bad 'Reputational Crisis' in the Middle East

Monday May 31, 2021. 05:34 AM , from Slashdot
NBC News reports:
Facebook is grappling with a reputation crisis in the Middle East, with plummeting approval rates and advertising sales in Arab countries, according to leaked documents obtained by NBC News.

The shift corresponds with the widespread belief by pro-Palestinian and free speech activists that the social media company has been disproportionately silencing Palestinian voices on its apps — which include Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — during this month's Israel-Hamas conflict... Instagram has taken the greatest reputational hit, according to a presentation authored by a Dubai-based Facebook employee that was leaked to NBC News, with its approval ratings among users falling to a historical low.

The social media company regularly polls users of Facebook and Instagram about how much they believe the company cares about them. Facebook converts the results into a 'Cares About Users' metric which acts as a bellwether for the apps' popularity. Since the start of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict, the metric among Instagram users in Facebook's Middle East and North Africa region is at its lowest in history, and fell almost 5 percentage points in a week, according to the research... Instagram's score measuring whether users think the app is good for the world, referred to as 'Good For World,' has also dropped in the region to its lowest level after losing more than 5 percentage points in a week...

The low approval ratings have been compounded by a campaign by pro-Palestinian and free speech activists to target Facebook with 1-star reviews on the Apple and Google app stores. The campaign tanked Facebook's average rating from above 4 out of 5 stars on both app stores to 2.2 on the App Store and 2.3 on Google Play as of Wednesday. According to leaked internal posts, the issue has been categorized internally as a 'severity 1' problem for Facebook, which is the second highest priority issue after a 'severity 0' incident, which is reserved for when the website is down. 'Users are feeling that they are being censored, getting limited distribution, and ultimately silenced,' one senior software engineer said in a post on Facebook's internal message board. 'As a result, our users have started protesting by leaving 1 star reviews.'

Internal documents connect the reputational damage to a decline in advertising sales in the Middle East. According to the leaked presentation, Facebook's ad sales in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq dropped at least 12 percent in the 10 days after May 7.

NBC adds that pro-Palestinian civil society group believe Israel is flooding Facebook with reports of violations. 'The Israeli government is spending millions on digital tools and campaigns targeting social media content,' said Mona Shtaya from 7amleh, a nonprofit that focuses on Palestinians' digital rights.

The article points out that Israel 'also funds a program that pays students to post and report content on social media in what is described as 'online public diplomacy.''

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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