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Gaza Content Dispute Results in Firing, Ex-Meta Engineer Alleges

A former Meta (META.O) engineer accused the company on Tuesday of bias in handling content related to the Gaza war, alleging in a lawsuit that Meta fired him for attempting to address bugs that suppressed Palestinian Instagram posts. Ferras Hamad, a Palestinian-American engineer who joined Meta’s machine learning team in 2021, sued the social media giant in a California state court for discrimination, wrongful termination, and other misconduct following his February dismissal.

In the complaint, Hamad claimed Meta exhibited a pattern of bias against Palestinians, including deleting internal employee communications about relatives’ deaths in Gaza and investigating the use of the Palestinian flag emoji. The lawsuit asserts that no similar investigations were conducted for employees posting Israeli or Ukrainian flag emojis.

Meta did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Hamad’s allegations. Hamad’s claims align with long-standing criticisms from human rights groups regarding Meta’s moderation of content related to Israel and the Palestinian territories, including findings from an external investigation the company commissioned in 2021.

The conflict in Gaza intensified after Hamas militants attacked inside Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking over 250 hostages, according to Israeli reports. In response, Israel launched an offensive in Gaza that has resulted in over 36,000 deaths and a humanitarian crisis, according to Gaza health officials.

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Since the outbreak of war last year, the company has faced accusations that it was suppressing expressions of support for Palestinians living amid the war.

Nearly 200 Meta employees raised similar concerns in an open letter to Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and other leaders earlier this year.

Hamad said his firing appeared to stem from an incident in December involving an emergency procedure designed to troubleshoot severe problems with the company’s platforms, known within Meta as a SEV or “site event”.

He had noted procedural irregularities in the handling of an SEV related to restrictions on content posted by Palestinian Instagram personalities that prevented the posts from appearing in searches and feeds, the complaint said.

In one case, the complaint alleged, he found that a short video posted by Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza had been misclassified as pornographic even though it showed a destroyed building in Gaza.

Hamad said he received conflicting guidance from other employees about the status of the SEV and whether he was authorized to help resolve it, though he had worked on similarly sensitive SEVs before, including ones related to Israel, Gaza and Ukraine. His manager later confirmed in writing that the SEV was part of his job function, he said.

The next month, after a Meta representative told him he was the subject of an investigation, Hamad filed an internal discrimination complaint and days later was fired, he said.

Hamad said Meta told him he was fired for violating a policy barring employees from working on issues with accounts of people they know personally, referring to Azaiza, the photojouralist. Hamad said he had no personal connection to Azaiza.

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