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December 25, 2016 4:28 pm

New ‘Facebook Law’ Approved by Israeli Ministers Empowers Court to Force Web Platforms to Remove Incitement From Pages

avatar by Ruthie Blum

One of many memes used to incite stabbing attacks against Israelis. Photo: Facebook.

One of many memes used to incite stabbing attacks against Israelis. Photo: Facebook.

A social media bill initiated by two Israeli cabinet members who have been spearheading the campaign against incitement to violence on the Internet was approved by the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday, the Hebrew news site nrg reported.

The “Facebook Law,” promoted by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan — who also serves as minister of strategic affairs and information  — aims to empower the Administrative Court, at the state’s request, to issue injunctions to Internet content providers, such as Facebook and Google, to remove incitement from their pages.

Such injunctions will be issued, according to the bill, when posts are deemed to be criminal or to imperil the safety of an individual Israeli, sector of society or the country as a whole.

Shaked said that the cyber-security department of the State Attorney’s Office has been working for the past year to have content that meets the above description barred or removed from the Internet. So far, she said, there have been 1,755 appeals to websites on this matter, some 71 percent of which were fully addressed.

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“I am happy to see Internet platforms cooperate, but it is important for this cooperation to be obligatory,” Shaked said. “People’s lives are at stake, and therefore incitement on the web must be treated as a clear call for violent action, and networks must be forced to respond to those who incite to violence with the full extent of the law.”

Erdan added: “Despite the fact that incitement leads to terrorism, Facebook and other platforms still do not respond to all police requests to remove [dangerous] content, and it often takes a lot of time before incitement is removed. The new law is necessary, as it provides us with the tools to act immediately to remove content that could cause acts of terror and murder.”

As the new law was being approved by the committee, an east Jerusalem woman was indicted for a car-ramming attack she committed earlier this month at the Qalandiya checkpoint in the West Bank. According to the indictment, a few hours before Amani Hashim carried out the December 13 attack, she posted about her desire to become a “martyr for Allah” in a post on her Facebook page.

Israel’s Channel 10 reported that when Hashim neared the checkpoint, an IDF soldier signaled her to stop. She obeyed, waiting for him to cross the street and walk towards her vehicle. When he was in front of her, she accelerated, causing the soldier to fly onto the hood of the car and then roll off into the street. Hashim continued on her rampage, crashing into another car, and only coming to a halt when she hit a concrete barrier. Still in the car before being arrested by security forces, she began to wave a knife and shout: “There is no other God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.”

Facebook had a mixed reaction to the new Israeli law. On the one hand, according to nrg, the social media giant said that the security of its users is paramount, claiming “zero tolerance for terrorists, glorification of their actions and for incitement to violence in the real world.”

On the other, it  stated, “We hope to continue to conduct constructive dialogue with the Israeli government and other interested parties,” adding that Israel should be “carefully considering the implications of this bill for Israeli democracy, freedom of speech, the open Internet and the dynamism of the Israeli Internet sector.”

As Bloomberg reported on Sunday, the head of the Center for Democratic Values and Institutions at the think tank the Israel Democracy Institute blasted the bill, calling it “an assault on freedom of expression on an international scale.”

Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler said that the new Israeli law would hold content providers to a much higher level of responsibility than they are held to by similar legislation in other countries. “The ‘Facebook Bill’ needs to be substantially revised,” she said, according to Bloomberg.


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