Israeli Ministers Approve ‘Facebook Law’ Against Web Incitement

Israeli Ministers Approve ‘Facebook Law’ Against Web Incitement

Bill would let court issue warrants for removal of content
Cabinet to discuss tougher measures amid free-speech concerns

by Gwen Ackerman December 25, 2016, 7:01 AM PST

Israeli courts could demand that companies such as Facebook Inc. remove content deemed as incitement, under a bill that that will head for parliamentary approval amid concerns about free speech.

The law would give Israel the tools “to have content liable to lead to murder and terror removed immediately,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said via text message after an Israeli ministerial committee approved the bill Sunday.

Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked have continued pushing the bill even after Facebook agreed in a September meeting to create joint teams to deal with Internet incitement. Israel’s Cabinet said Sunday it would discuss even tougher measures against violent content on the web, without indicating what those measures might be.

The Internet giants aren’t ignoring the problem: Facebook, Microsoft Corp., Twitter Inc. and YouTube said earlier this month they were creating a shared database to help enforce policies against online terrorist content. After the September meeting in Israel, Facebook said it has “zero tolerance for terrorism.”

Limiting Speech?

In an e-mailed statement Sunday, Facebook said it works “aggressively” to remove problematic content “as soon as we become aware of it.” The company said it hopes to continue a “constructive dialogue” with Israel that includes “careful consideration of the implications of this bill for Israeli democracy, freedom of speech, the open Internet and the dynamism of the Israeli Internet sector.”

Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, head of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Center for Democratic Values and Institutions, called the bill “an assault on freedom of expression on an international scale.” Compared to similar legislation in other countries, the Israeli bill would hold content providers like Facebook and Google parent Alphabet Inc. to a much higher level of responsibility, Shwartz Altshuler said in an e-mailed statement.

“The ‘Facebook Bill’ needs to be substantially revised,” she said.

After attackers opened fire at a social services center in San Bernardino, California in July, killing 14 people and wounding 22, U.S. President Barack Obama asked Silicon Valley firms to work with law enforcement to prevent terrorists from using social media and encryption technologies to encourage violence.

Influencing Attackers

Shaked noted that some 71 percent of 1,755 complaints about incitement filed to Internet companies this year were addressed immediately. Still, while she welcomed the Internet companies’ cooperation, "it is important that it be obligatory and not on a whim,” she said in an e-mailed statement.

Many Palestinians arrested this year after attacking Israelis said they had been influenced by content on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other online platforms, Erdan and Shaked said in September.

Lawyers filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Facebook in July, alleging it allowed the Palestinian militant group Hamas to use its platform to plot attacks that killed four Americans. That same month, Erdan accused Facebook of complicity in Palestinian violence, saying the blood of a 13-year-old Israeli girl stabbed to death in her bed was “partially on Facebook’s hands.”


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