Facebook Shuts Down Incitement Page, New Page Threatened
The momentum of change is exploding across the Middle East. Commentators across the political spectrum are using the twenty first century’s ultimate soapbox to spread “the message,” recognizing that “community organizing is serious business.”
Whatever one’s political or philosophical direction, even the most cursory observer has understood the ability of Facebook and other “social media” to affect change. The events during the early months of 2011 provide a prime example: technically able activists sparked upheavals that challenged or overthrew governments (Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia – examples of nations affected). Social media cut across class, if not generations, reaching critical masses of people about real issues and providing the connections activists needed to build their base.
A major challenge to the ethics and responsibility of social media providers arose in mid March with the posting of a Facebook “page” calling for a “Third Palestinian Intifada” against the state of Israel. The call was for specific action, on a specific date, in a specific place – a direct incitement of violence. In the forefront of the protest against this inflammatory web page was ADL, the Anti Defamation League, which called upon Facebook’s administrators to abide by the media organization’s stated policy to “vigilantly monitor pages…” that call for violence or terrorism against Jews and Israel. From Israel, Minister for the Diaspora Yuli Edelstein contacted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, warning that the questioned page includes calls to kill Jews and to liberate Jerusalem through intifada. “The page incites to violence and violates Facebook’s content regulations,” wrote Edelstein.
The original page, urged Palestinians to take to the streets after Friday prayers on May 15th and begin an uprising. The inflammatory rhetoric said “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The original page had more than 340,000 fans: within hours. It is reported that 300,000 have visited its replacement by late Tuesday.
When Facebook shut down the page, Abraham H. Foxman, ADL’s National Director, said “We applaud Facebook … and we deeply appreciate their responsiveness… Facebook has now recognized an important standard to be applied when evaluating issues of non-compliance with its terms of service involving distinctions between incitement to violence and legitimate calls for collective expressions of opinion and action.”
What does the removal of a “page” signify? How closely can social media be monitored? Is the removal of this specific “call” really a triumph for Jewish activism – or a pyrrhic victory? Unquestionably, Facebook’s ability to reach 600 million users is an indication of viral power. Yet, even as the offensive page was taken down, however, another, virtually identical edition was mounted, carrying the same name: “Third Palestinian Intifada.”
Foxman warned that “We should not be so naïve to believe that a campaign for a ‘Third Intifada’ does not portend renewed violence, especially in the current climate that has seen a dramatic increase in rocket attacks from Gaza, the brutal murder of the Fogel family in the West Bank, and a terrorist bombing in Jerusalem.”
Deborah Lauter, ADL’s Director of Civil Rights told the Algemeiner that “we are facing a global system in which hate is flourishing. We must find solutions to more proactively address the situation.” She said that ADL is working closely with Facebook and other social media to find a solution, one that now relies on monitors and the community. “There is so much hate out there it is hard to keep up with.” She continued “no matter how sophisticated technology becomes, it will ultimately require human intelligence. Words have to be seen in context.”
As a private organization, Facebook is free to limit “speech.” First Amendment criteria are not at issue: the company has the right to censor and make its own decisions. A government forum also can impose some limitations, and can eliminate hate speech that rises to the level of incitement to violence and shut down sites. Speech that is not protected includes that which rises to the level of harassment, incites actionable threats, is pornographic, or threatens child safety.
The minimal limits characteristic of American media have heaped criticism on the United States from many European countries. ADL, as the United States representative to INACH (the International Network Against Cyber Hate) a coalition of nations that shares information about sites that spread hate, racism, or xenophobia, has heard criticism of the US position first hand: content that is illegal to post on servers based in the European members of INACH can be posted on American servers.
New media expert Dr. Andre Oboler of Australia, a Legacy Heritage Fellow at NGO Monitor in Jerusalem, commented that “Facebook needs to learn to distinguish between the right to ‘attack’ conceptual ideas, and the ‘wrong’ of attacking people be it because of their race, religion, nationality or political view.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has called on Congress and the Obama Administration to enforce hate crime laws, promote and protect religious freedom while funding anti-bias bullying prevention and education initiatives. ADL notes that “a significant level of anti-Muslim bigotry has surfaced in a variety of public forums over the past year… characterized by unfair stereotyping and prejudice,” and has expressed concerns about anti-Muslim bigotry and described its work on confronting hostility toward Muslim.