Meta is temporarily changing users’ default comment settings on Facebook as part of its response to the Israel-Hamas war. The company said in an update it was making the change in an effort to “protect people in the region from potentially unwelcome or unwanted comments.”
With the change, comments on “newly created public Facebook posts” will be limited to the user’s friends or “established followers.” The step is somewhat unusual as publicly viewable Facebook posts are typically open to comments from anyone by default. Meta didn’t specify the location or how many Facebook accounts would be affected by the change, but said it would apply broadly to “people in the region.”
The company added that all Facebook users have the ability to limit their comments, regardless of their location, and that it would notify users for whom the setting was now enabled by default. Additionally, Meta said it’s making it easier for Facebook users to bulk delete comments and that it’s “disabled the feature that normally displays the first one or two comments under posts in Feed.”
The updates appear to be meant to reduce harassment and potentially toxic comments as tensions surrounding the conflict continue to onto social media. Meta also said it’s rolling out its profile “lock” tool to Facebook users “in the region.” The allows users to hide some previously-public parts of their profile and prevents non-friends from seeing a full-size version of their profile photos.
The company also addressed claims that their content moderation practices have unfairly suppressed some accounts posting about the conflict. Over the weekend a number of that they believed they had been on Instagram for posting content about conditions in Gaza or otherwise calling attention to how the ongoing conflict is affecting Palestinians.
Meta spokesperson Andy Stone said the company had and fixed a “bug” that affected the visibility of Stories and other re-shared posts “globally.” On Wednesday, the company confirmed the issues had “significantly reduced” the reach of Stories. “This bug affected accounts equally around the globe – not only people trying to post about what’s happening in Israel and Gaza – and it had nothing to do with the subject matter of the content,” Meta said. Separately, the company also fixed another “global issue” that prevented users from livestreaming on Facebook “for a short time.”
It’s not the first time questions have been raised about Meta’s response to a conflict between Israel and Hamas. In May of 2021, the last time there was a major escalation violence in the Gaza Strip, Facebook’s moderation practices violated Palestinians’ right to free expression, a report Meta found. The report found that Meta’s systems and content reviewers had a lower accuracy rate when evaluating posts written in Palestinian Arabic, which resulted in a significant number of users being hit with “false strikes” on their accounts.