Israel's Foreign Ministry accused Facebook of failing to remove thousands of posts it has reported as the anti-Israel incitement on social media continues. Facebook officials on their part said they are waiting to receive the information about the inciting posts from the Foreign Ministry.
On Sunday, the Israeli government approved a bill that would allow a court to order sites such as Facebook and YouTube to remove material found to be "incitement" that contributes to Palestinian violence. The legislation will now be taken up by the Knesset.
Government watchdogs have expressed concern such a law could be abused and harm free speech. The legislation, known as the "Facebook bill," would allow the government to petition a court to have online material it considers incitement removed. It would be removed in cases where it poses "a real risk to the security of a person, the public or the state," Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said in a statement.
The Foreign Ministry gathers complaints from its representatives around the world about posts on Facebook that are anti-Semitic and/or incite to the murder of Israelis and Jews. Ministry officials say the data point to serious patterns of incitement and anti-Semitism on Facebook, way beyond what the social network is willing to admit.
Elad Ratson, the Foreign Ministry’s director of research and development for digital diplomacy, told Ynet that since the beginning of the year the ministry’s digital warfare team handled 21,957 complaints of inciting or anti-Semitic posts on Facebook alone. The posts are automatically sent from the State of Israel’s representatives around the world. After an extensive examination, 11,840 of them were identified as posts that violate Facebook’s own terms and conditions.
He added that although all posts were reported by the users through the methods suggested by Facebook, the social network has yet to remove them. Only after the development of a unique technological system allowing the Foreign Ministry to monitor the way Facebook responds to users’ reports, it managed—through technological means—to bring about the removal of 7,133 posts (53 percent of the reported posts).
Noam Katz, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry's media and public affairs division, used harsh words recently to describe Facebook’s almost absolute control over information. Speaking at Foreign Ministry cadets’ course, he used the terms “totalitarian society” as he specified the dangers involved in Facebook’s failure to handle content inciting hatred and violence.
'Requests to receive the information unanswered'Facebook Israel offered the following response: “Anyone can report content to Facebook that they believe is in contradiction with the company’s policy. In addition, we sometimes use direct communication channels with governments around the world and non-governmental organizations in a bid to familiarize ourselves with content that may violate the rules of our community.
”In August 2015, Facebook was informed that the Foreign Ministry was collecting content that included incitement. Facebook asked to see the information in order to remove any content violating its rules. Repeated requests to receive the information were unanswered. In addition, Facebook suggested a meeting with the Foreign Ministry in order to discuss the way the content is reported, and that request remained unanswered too.”
The social network added in its response that “there is nothing more important to Facebook than the safety of the community, and the company is doing a lot to protect its users. We hope that in the future, the Foreign Ministry will report content directly to us, just like other governmental bodies in Israel and around the world do, so that we can work to rapidly remove any content violating the community rules.”
The Foreign Ministry said in response that it “systematically encounters lack of transparency in every dialogue with Facebook when it comes to the way the social network deals with content including incitement, disinformation and hate. The Foreign Ministry would gladly share with Facebook information about the problematic content that has been gathered with a lot of effort over time. Such a discussion, however, cannot be efficient and meaningful as long as Facebook insists on concealing the rules of the mechanism it has built to handle content that violates its own policy. Unfortunately, for some reason, Facebook insists on imposing a complete blackout on the way the mechanism works, including the criteria, the identity of the people who make content decisions on a daily basis and the level of their familiarity with the violent and inciting discourse in the Middle East.”
The ministry further added that it will “do everything in its power to help Facebook fight cases of incitement, disinformation and hate, but we expect Facebook to demonstrate the same level of commitment to this matter. The lack of transparency on Facebook’s part makes it very difficult to create the constructive atmosphere which is a condition for successfully defending the users against incitement, disinformation and hate. We expect Facebook to act quickly and determinedly against this phenomenon, in sincere, open and transparent cooperation with the Foreign Ministry.”
Facebook has been dealing with serious accusations since the beginning of 2016. The social network has been accused of gaining “unprecedented power” as an exclusive monopoly, which is “not just a threat to democracy, but also a threat to capitalism,” according to social activist Robert McChesney.
The Indian government accused Facebook last February of “digital colonialism” following the violation of the network’s neutrality by Facebook in India. Human rights organizations in the United States accused Facebook of imposing uncontrolled censorship and spoke of the need for legislation that would force the social network to account for the unsupervised shut down of accounts and content deletion. In addition, Facebook was accused of swinging the US presidential election as a result of the huge amounts of fake content and disinformation on the network.
AFP contributed to this report.