Meta employee calls out ‘toxic’ rules that ban staff from discussing controversial topics like Israel–Palestine

A Meta employee has expressed fears that an internal ban on controversial political topics is the beginning of censorship across its platforms like Instagram and Facebook, claiming she was removed from the company’s systems for two months after penning concerns about the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Saima Akhter, a New York-based data scientist at Meta, claims that she was placed “under investigation” and kicked out of internal systems for “speaking up for Palestine.”

She now alleges the investigation has concluded and she has returned to Meta.

Staffers at Meta are banned from discussing politics, health and weapons under its “community engagement expectations (CEE).”

“External censorship on Meta platforms starts with internal censorship of Meta employees,” Akhter writes in her post on Instagram.

“I am continuing to push for more explanation on why and what they were investigating.

“And I am continuing to ask how employees at Meta can express their concerns to leadership and actually be heard.”

The employee signed off the post by tagging her employer: “@meta, please stop internally censoring employees and get rid of the toxic CEE.”

Fortune has contacted Meta and Akhter for comment.

Pro-Palestine voices “ignored”

Meta introduced CEE at the end of 2022 “to ensure that internal discussions remain respectful,” Lori Goler, the company’s head of people at the time wrote in an internal memo viewed by Fortune.

“This comes with the trade-off that we’ll no longer allow for every type of expression at work, but we think this is the right thing to do for the long-term health of our internal community,” the memo added.

From then on, topics that had previously caused “disruption” including vaccine efficacy, abortion and gun rights were all banned overnight from being discussed in the workplace. 

Despite this, Akhter began openly advocating for Palestine amid its escalating conflict with Israel in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. 

Meta CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, weighed in on the war which has now claimed over 31,000 lives, calling the terrorist attacks “pure evil.”

“My primary concern is the safety of our employees and their families in Israel and the surrounding region,” Zuckerberg shared on Instagram stories.

A group of Meta employees—including Akhter—then penned and circulated a letter asking Meta to “acknowledge Palestinian lives lost” and “transparent action for internal and external censorship on our platforms.”

“Internally we have been trying to raise these concerns and alarms but there is a rule that you cannot talk about disruptive topics, so anything we post about in regards to Palestine gets taken down,” the Meta employee said in an Instagram video earlier this year before allegedly being placed “under investigation.”

Now, in her latest Instagram post, she has blasted Meta’s leadership team for failing to acknowledge the hundreds of pro-Palestenian voices in the company.

“The letter received nearly 500 signatures, and nearly 100 personal testimonials from employees,” she says. “Leadership deleted the letter (including deleting copies of the letter from employees drives and emails), ignored it, and never addressed it again.”

Censorship on Meta

It’s not the first time that Meta has been accused of silencing pro-Palestinian posts on its platforms since the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza war.

In a scathing 51-page report, Human Rights Watch blasted the social network behemoth for engaging in a “systemic and global” censorship of content in support of Palestine and Palestinians, including the taking down of posts, disabling accounts and restricting users’ ability to interact with others’ posts.

Meta outlined in a blog post on its company website that it did indeed take down “more than 795,000 pieces of content” from its platform in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack because they violated the company’s “Dangerous Organizations and Individuals” policy—this included posts which showed “identifiable victims at the moment of the attack” and ones praising Hamas.

Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King said that his Instagram account was deactivated last December after he accused Israel of genocide.

“The account was disabled due to multiple instances of praise for designated entities in violation of our policies,” a Meta spokesperson explained to CNBC at the time.

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