On November 25, 2015, I addressed the Knesset Science and Technology Committee on the issue of the responsibility of social media for incitement to violence and terror. What follows are my speaking notes:
Good morning. I would like to thank the members of the Science and Technology Committee for initiating this very important discussion and for inviting our family to participate.
On October 13, 2015, two terrorists boarded public bus number 78 in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem and started randomly shooting and stabbing people. My father, Richard Lakin, was shot in the head, and after he fell to the ground, he was stabbed multiple times in the head, face and stomach. Most of his vital organs were severed. He spent two weeks unconscious in the ICU unit of Hadassah Hospital before he died.
My father, Richard Lakin, was a kind, gentle, loving person. A retired elementary school principal, and a grandfather of eight. On his website, Thanks2Teachers, and in his book, Teaching as an Act of Love, Dad described himself in the following words: “Recipient of endless joy from my children and grandkids, and from the smiles, laughter and sense of wonder of the hundreds of elementary school children I had the good fortune to work with as a teacher and principal during the past 40 years.”
My father was a humanitarian, who channeled his efforts into promoting equality. As a young man in the United States, Richard worked to promote civil rights, marching with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., setting up an integrated summer camp and initiating and implementing the integration of the all-white suburban elementary school where he served as principal. After moving to Israel, my father taught English to Jewish, Christian and Muslim children. Richard was a founding member of several organizations focused on “co-existence,” the word that echoes forever across the banner of his Facebook page.
My father’s brutal murder on bus 78 by two Hamas activists, the Knife Intifada, the recent terror attacks in Paris, and the thousands who have been murdered in terror attacks around the world (Madrid, London, New York, Buenos Aires, Mali, Moscow, Mumbai, and Sinai, to name a few) are all part of a clear and disturbing pattern: An alarming increase in the frequency and footprint of terror attacks around the world which has been facilitated and accelerated through the use of social media.
Bahaa Allyan, one of the two terrorists who murdered my father, posted a call to martyrdom on his Facebook account in Arabic and it went viral. After the attack, YouTube videos of Bahaa Allyan glorying his “act of martyrdom” went viral. A “reenactment” of the attack on Bus 78, praising the attackers for their “great success,” was posted on the Islamic Block — Western Front Facebook page on October 14, 2015, and remains available on YouTube to this day.
These are just a few examples from the millions of pages, posts, and tweets floating around cyberspace: instructional videos showing how to most effectively stab a victim, anatomical charts with knives pointed a major veins and arteries, Imam’s with knives in their hands screaming “Stab, Stab, Stab” from the minbar (pulpit). After I speak, representatives of MEMRI, a leading website specializing in the translation of Arab language source materials, will present you with a professional analysis of the role of social media in incitement to violence.
Social media has had an incredibly positive impact on the world, but has also become a platform for facilitating hate and violence, and has rapidly accelerated the spread of terror. While some social media companies have made commendable efforts to help curtail this evil, it is too little, too late. Social media is still a key accelerator in the spread of terror.
I recently published an Op-Ed in the New York Times addressing the role of social media in the spread of hatred and violence and have been working tirelessly to build awareness regarding this issue: public opinion, legal actions, consumer boycotts and regulation. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are essentially new continents that have sprouted up over the past decade, with billions of citizens entrusting them with their most sensitive information and spending hours each day wandering their green fields. However, these new continents remain almost lawless.
In Israel, like all Western countries, we spend billions of shekels a year on self-regulation and policing to prevent violence and terror, and to protect our citizens. We regulate almost all major areas of our public lives: finance, transportation, communication, broadcast, healthcare, food, etc. However, the Internet and social media remain unregulated, a safe haven for calling to murder innocent people randomly in the streets, and providing detailed instructions how to butcher people with knives. This makes no sense.
The time has come to begin regulating social media. We must require social media companies to proactively remove all incitement to violence and establish heavy civil and criminal penalties for failure to comply. We require banks to monitor money transfers to prevent terrorist actions, we require media companies to monitor the content that they provide — no television station in the Western world could retain its license if it aired the type of incitement to violence that runs rampant on Facebook and YouTube. It is only logical that we require social media companies to proactively prevent terror activity and specific incitement to violence.
If Facebook, YouTube and Twitter wish to continue to enjoy to right to be intimately involved in our daily lives, control our most personal data, and make tens of billions of dollars by pushing us advertising and services, they also need to be held responsible to police themselves and prevent us from being hurt.
The social media titans who make egregious amounts of money from traffic related to incitement will surely raise the following arguments to protect their business interests:
- They will argue “free speech.” To this I answer, Israel is a great democracy. Unlike our neighbors, free speech is a core value held high above all others. However, it is a well-established principle that one cannot run into a crowded movie theater and yell “fire.” One certainly cannot run into a crowded movie theater, distribute AK47s and yell “fire.”
- They will argue that “regulation does not exist in other countries.” As this committee is well aware, our Start Up Nation is a leader in Science and Technology, facilitating much of the hardware and software upon which these social media giants are founded. Our great nation is a leader in ethics and morality. We have an opportunity to lead the world in regulating these uncharted territories, and we should embrace it.
- They will argue that “social media is nothing more than a bulletin board and we are not responsible for what users post.” If so, why do social media sites take down child pornography? They do it because everyone agrees that it is morally wrong, so they exercise editorial discretion and remove it.
- They will argue that “we have a corporate policy against hate and incitement.” Judging by the tens of thousands of videos inciting to violence, these corporate policies are obviously insufficient.
I have spoken with representatives of many political parties. This is a national issue on which we can all agree. The time has come for this Knesset to initiate legislation to regulate social media companies and require them to proactively remove materials that incite to violence.