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October 22, 2020 1:28 pm

Still a ‘Long Haul’ Ahead in Fight Against Online Hate After Facebook Ban on Holocaust Denial, Top Israeli Lawyer Says

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

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Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of the Facebook logo. Photo: Reuters / Dado Ruvic / Illustration / File.

A prominent Israeli attorney who files lawsuits on behalf of terror victims and their families says that Facebook’s new ban on Holocaust denial marks a step in the right direction, but the fight to force social media companies to eliminate incitement and antisemitism from their platforms is still at its start.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center NGO is currently pursuing a terror victims’ lawsuit against all major social media companies for giving terrorist groups such as Hamas and ISIS a venue to disseminate hateful ideology and calls for violence.

The lawsuit, she explained to The Algemeiner on Thursday, has been winding its way through the courts for five years and is at “different stages” depending on the companies involved, which include Facebook, Twitter and Google.

“We are continuing to press on with these cases because the issues at stake are so serious for Israel and the world Jewish community,” she said. “We understand that the extremist incitement, the calls to violence and the antisemitic hate that is allowed to be published and flourish on the social media platforms is a dangerous threat and almost all of the cases in recent years involving attacks on the Jewish community can be traced back to social media.”

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Darshan-Leitner said the biggest obstacle in these ongoing cases was convincing the courts that such incitement and hate was not protected speech under the US Constitution’s First Amendment.

“No one has a right to publish and disseminate such extremist and destructive messages targeting the Jewish community,” she asserted, and called allowing terror groups to use social media platforms “truly insane.”

“The courts have been wrongly ruling that the social media giants such as Facebook cannot be considered, under the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230, to be the publisher of the messages posted by third parties,” she noted. “Accordingly, the courts have been providing Facebook a blanket immunity on permitting the extremist messages.”

“The Anti-Terrorism Act would plainly recognize internet services in 2020 as material support and resources to the terrorist groups,” she stated. “It’s no different than Facebook and Twitter providing financing, weapons, safe-housing and a recruitment platform to Hezbollah.”

Social media platforms, Darshan-Leitner said, were not “merely neutral bulletin boards,” and should be held liable for activity on those platforms, which generates enormous revenues for the companies.

Moreover, she claimed, the social media giants already have the means to prevent incitement to terrorism and hate speech on their platforms.

“They possess the technology, the filters and algorithms to identify and block the extremist speech,” she said. “They have the means but they refuse.”

Nonetheless, Darshan-Leitner pointed out, some progress was being made, such as the new ban on Holocaust denial, calling it a “victory for the Jewish community” that must be built upon.

“It is still too little and still very late but it is real progress,” she said. “We need to be really grateful that we are beginning to rein Facebook in a little bit.”

“Obviously, the battle over the antisemitic hate and terrorism on the web is still raging, but this new policy shows us that we can achieve some measure of success and it encourages us to be ever more vigilant,” Darshan-Leitner continued. “We really believe the world Jewish community is now a little bit safer.”

Nonetheless, she warned, “the battle against extremist speech and incitement is going to be a very long legal haul.”

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