Israel’s Ministers Shaked & Erdan and representatives from Facebook agreed to form a task force to fight online hate & incitement – but Israel’s option of legislation forcing social networks’ total cooperation is till on table.
By LAHAV HARKOV
Facebook cooperates with the authorities the vast majority of the time the government asks the network to remove content inciting to terrorism, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Monday, shortly after she and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan met with a senior delegation from the social media giant.
“These are impressive numbers; however, we understand that there is too much online incitement, and we must continue to increase our efforts,” Shaked said in a speech to the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s World Summit at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
Because the online contact inciting to terrorism is shared widely, every minute that they are online is dangerous and provokes more terrorism, Shaked added.
“Digital and economic efforts to fight terrorism are no less important than military efforts,” Shaked stated. “Terrorism in 2016 needs a response that’s up-to-date for 2016.”
Shaked and Erdan and officials in their ministries met with Facebook’s Joel Kaplan, vice president of global public policy, and Monika Bickert, head of product policy and counter terrorism.
Erdan courted controversy in July by saying that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has “blood on his hands” following a terrorist attack, but his office characterized the meeting with the social network’s executives as successful.
“Facebook and Internet companies are responsible for content that is published on their platforms that encourage terrorism and incite, and they must behave actively in order to find and remove them,” Erdan stated. “In the last wave of terror, we saw that the Internet turned into a breeding ground for terrorism, and we must fight together to prevent it.”
Social media companies “can and must do much more,” Erdan added.
The ministers and executives agreed to form a task force, recognizing that Facebook has the ability, responsibility and will to eradicate incident to terrorism on its network.
MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union), who proposed a bill to remove inciting content, met with Kaplan and Bickert separately, and called for Facebook to hire people in Israel who understand local security concerns.
“Facebook understood that it is a superpower that is responsible for the wellbeing of its users,” Swid said. “The terror industry uses social networks, which have the responsibility to find and remove content calling for acts of terror. As long as Facebook is not committed to removing inciting content, legislation is necessary.”
A Facebook spokesperson called the meeting constructive, and said the delegation visited Israel “as part our ongoing dialogue with policymakers and experts around the world to keep terrorist content off our platform and support counterspeech initiatives.”
“Online extremism can only be tackled with a strong partnership between policymakers, civil society, academia and companies, and this is true in Israel and around the world. We had constructive discussions about these important issues and look forward to a continued dialogue and cooperation,” the spokesperson stated.
The Facebook spokesperson added that the network has zero tolerance for terrorism or content that promotes terrorism, and is working on understanding local context to inform its community standards.
Despite the meeting, Erdan’s office said that legislative initiatives to force social networks’ hands in removing content that incites to terrorism are still on the table.
Shaked and Erdan have proposed a joint Justice Ministry and Public Security Ministry bill allowing courts to order social media providers to remove content that constitutes a danger to personal, public or state security.
The ministers also backed the “Lakin bill” to fight online incitement, named after Richard Lakin, a Israeli-American educator killed in a Palestinian terrorist attack last year, which passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset this summer. The bill proposed by Swid with the support of Lakin’s son, Micah Avni requires social media providers to remove incitement to terrorism within 48 hours, using have their own means to monitor such content. If the site does not remove the incitement on time, it will be fined NIS 300,000 per post, and if there is proof the site knew about the content and still did not remove it, the fine will be upped to NIS 400,000.
The two proposals will be merged in the Knesset’s committees, and the ministers have said they will seek to strike a balance between freedom of expression and the state’s responsibility to provide security.
Avni explained that Facebook has the technical ability to control incitement on its network, much like it prevents pornography and copyright-infringing content from being posted.
“With terror, Facebook takes a position that they’ll be reactive and not proactive,” Avni said. “When people complain, they review the complaints. The bills proposed…require Facebook to begin to be proactive. Facebook is scared and doesn’t want that to happen, because it will be a big effort for them and will cost them money…and they don’t want to be in a position where governments are telling them what to do.”
Avni called the meeting between Facebook executives and the ministers “smoke and mirrors,” saying the social network “needs to take responsibility and remove incitement to terror.”
The Israel Democracy Institute came out against the bills, saying they need to be made much more specific in order to avoid significantly violating freedom of expression and information.
A position paper by Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, the head of IDI’s Media Reform Project, which she sent to Erdan and Shaked, states that their proposal “disproportionately violates the right to free expression and information in cyberspace. The proposal avoids the complex challenges of social media and does not suit a democratic state. It proposes arrangements that cannot be implemented, and they will cause more damage than help, while creating judicial authority issues that put the State of Israel in a problematic international situation.”
The bill will make Israel “the first among civilized states to violate freedom of expression online in such a broad way, and in such a clear extra-territorial way, without any cooperation with other countries.”
Shwartz Altshuler argued that it would be more democratic to put social media services on trial for hosting criminal content, than to require them to remove the content in the first place. In addition, she said the authorities will have trouble dealing with content posted abroad, and that the content will only be hidden from Israeli citizens and not removed entirely.
Avni disagreed that the bill limits free speech, because he said freedom of expression is not absolute as it is.
“It’s an agreed principle that you can’t run into a movie theater and yell ‘fire’ when there is no fire, because it endangers people,” he stated. “No one argues that’s an infringement on free speech. The principle is that free speech does not protect people who are inciting to imminent violence. That’s a worldwide accepted policy.”
In Israel, specifically, there are laws against inciting to terror, Avni pointed out, saying that he thinks the Justice Ministry could prosecute Facebook under those laws.
“Nowhere does the law state that free speech is a free pass to commit crimes and incite to commit crimes. That’s not the issue. No one is talking about limiting free speech,” in the proposed bills, Avni said.
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