When Israel issued an evacuation order from north Gaza on October 13, Shouq Al-Najjar left her house and headed south, to the city of Khan Younis, where she’s now sharing a home with 150 relatives and friends. Every day is a struggle for the basics. “Now bakeries are stretched to the limit. They cannot meet the demand for bread,” she said in a video message over WhatsApp. “Hospitals could stop working at any hour now, as there is no electricity and no fuel to power generators.”
A ground invasion of Gaza is thought to be imminent. Al-Najjar, a coordinator at Ma’an Development Centre, a nonprofit that works with other local community organizations on Gaza’s humanitarian and economic development, says there are no more shelters to go to. Local health and aid workers are warning of an impending humanitarian crisis. Services are collapsing The last remaining power station ran out of fuel on October 11, just three days after a near-total blockade began. On October 17, the Health Ministry in Gaza asked people to bring their remaining personal stashes of fuel to pump generators at hospitals and keep them running. Fresh drinking water has run out, according to the UN Refugee Agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, leaving people to drink dirty well water.
With the situation on the ground constantly in flux, social media is a lifeline. People stay informed via a patchwork of videos, text posts, and voice notes, along with official statements from government agencies. But getting information within Gaza, and getting information out of Gaza, has become increasingly difficult. Internet and electricity services have been disrupted by attacks. Last Friday, Israel vowed to cut Gaza’s access to the internet. Since then, services have been intermittent. Exacerbating this, Palestinians and their supporters allege that social media platforms—particularly Instagram, which is a critical communications tool in Gaza—are “shadow-banning” their content—algorithmically deprioritizing it so it’s harder to find, or actively over-moderating it. Instagram’s owner, Meta, denies this is happening, calling the issues “a glitch,” but this alleged phenomenon has been documented for years. These information blackouts could deepen the suffering of those fleeing the fighting, or in the firing line.
“It makes it even hard to get in touch with loved ones, to get critical information about where to find medicine, food, safe passage, which are all critically limited,” says Deborah Brown, a senior researcher and advocate on digital rights at campaign group Human Rights Watch. “It also seriously hinders the ability of journalists and human rights monitors to document mounting abuses.”
On social media, shadow-banning is hard to prove. But users across the world say any posts containing Palestinian content, or mentions of Gaza, get atypically low views and engagement. In some cases, Instagram users weren’t allowed to comment on other posts, with a pop-up message that read, “We restrict certain activity to protect our community. Based on your use, this action will be unavailable for you until [date]. Tell us if you think we made a mistake.”