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Is Israel’s new ‘Facebook law’ really the answer to curbing online terrorism?

Israel puts free speech at risk with its new 'Facebook law' -- better to fight incitement directly by calling it out

Bloomberg reports that Israeli courts could demand that social media platforms such as Facebook could remove content deemed as “incitement,” under a bill that that will be put forward for parliamentary approval amid concerns about free speech and the “fake news” narrative.

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 SMS after an Israeli ministerial committee approved the bill on Sunday.

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.”

OK, so the removal of “content liable to lead to murder and terror” sounds good but that’s not all to it.

But what about the term “problematic content”? What exactly does that mean? Clearly, that’s arbitrarily decided.

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 such as Germany, the Israeli bill would hold content providers like Facebook, Twitter and Google to a much higher level of responsibility, Shwartz Altshuler said in an email.

Of course, I am not advocating terrorism, or the incitement of terrorism via social media platforms, however, I believe such draconian laws are open to abuse and are not the correct solution to dealing with this issue.

My first concern is that dissenting and “unapproved” opinions will be thrown into the same basket as ‘inciting terrorism’ and be seen as a threat deemed worthy of being censored.

My second concern is that what exactly defines “terrorism” and the “incitement of terrorism” may be arbitrary. Let me be even clearer: THe war on online terrorism can easily be disguised as an actual assault on free speech. If blocking procedures are to be introduced, then my question is “under what safeguards of transparency and accountability, if any, would they operate?”

Thus a drastic measure such as this proposal is very dangerous.

In the context of international terrorism — and I’m not picking on Israel here as they usually have very good counterterrorism measures in place — censoring online terrorism content may be used by politicians as a band-aid solution or a stop-gap measure to hide such content from the view of the general populace — essentially a “sweeping under the carpet,” effect without actually tackling the issue head-on by combatting the source physically. They can then pretend that they’re doing something about it when in actual fact, blocking will not solve the problem permanently and in fact will only cause terrorists to go down the rabbit hole further, so to speak.

Instead of using social media, these terrorists will turn to encrypted chatboards and messaging applications, privately owned websites or blogs and even printed materials to disseminate their propaganda.

What are we going to do then? See, clearly that’s not going to be a very effective solution.

I think online terrorism must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and suspicious accounts should be monitored and social media users should be encouraged to report/flag suspicious activity based on a set of clearly defined standards that are available for the public to see. That way, the social networking community is participating in the active prevention of potential terrorism activities and abuse is less likely.

This can be best compared to crime on our streets. Police do not monitor every individual in the nation. To do so would violate the basic right of personal liberty and privacy and would be worthy of comparison to a Nazi, totalitarian state such as North Korea. Instead, law-abiding citizens report crime and then police deal with it as necessary. Obviously known hotspots and violent groups are monitored regularly.

So it should be the same with the online community. Just because terrorism is a very real threat that we face in the 21st century, it doesn’t mean that social media giants should be forced to implement draconian measures on the entire social media community just because of a small minority who seeks to disrupt peace and harmony.

Also, on a slightly different tangent, I believe the key to dealing with real fake news is the encouragement of a broad range of opinions and the promotion of the Fifth Estate.

Censorship is not going to work here. As former US NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said: “The problem of fake news isn’t solved by hoping for a referee but rather because we as participants, we as citizens, we as users of these services help each other,” said Snowden,

“The answer to bad speech is not censorship. The answer to bad speech is more speech. We have to exercise and spread the idea that critical thinking matters now more than ever, given the fact that lies seem to be getting very popular.”

That takes me back to my original point about the crackdown on online terrorism content, social networking platform users — that means me, you, all of us — should work together as a collective to help combat suspicious terrorism activity online.

We also need to see the encouragement of online content denouncing terrorism in any way, shape or form.

Not only will that be easier for the social media companies in terms of resourcing and finance, but it will also mean a fair go for all and a non-dictatorial style approach.

Israel prides itself as being the only true democracy in the Middle East and in order for them to maintain that status as a nation, more discussion amongst citizens should be encouraged, not indirectly censored through an arbitrary law.

Like I said, by all means monitor known social media terrorism hotspots and encourage users to help curb online terrorism activities but don’t enforce a drastic measure that has serious implications on everyone’s right to free speech.

About the Author
Caleb Stephen is a widely-published Christian freelance journalist, columnist and the founder and Editor-In-Chief of TJ Media (TruthJournalism.com). He is based in Adelaide, South Australia. He writes regularly for world-renowned websites such as WorldNetDaily (WND), The Daily Caller, The Times of Israel, The Huffington Post, Jerusalem Post, WeAreChange.org and Intellihub News. Visit his website CalebStephen.com and follow him on Twitter @CalebSOfficial
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