Tackling Incitement against Israel and Jews on Facebook

It’s a scourge of online ‘activism’ that it often degenerates into incitement, hatred and anti-Semitism.

So it’s welcome that Facebook has agreed to cooperate with the Israeli government over online incitement, following a meeting between senior Facebook executives and two Israeli ministers in Tel Aviv. Josh Kaplan, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Public Policy, and Monika Bickert, Head of Product Policy, met with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in Tel Aviv this week.

A Facebook statement said: “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.” Shaked said this week that Facebook had agreed to 95 per cent of Israeli requests to take down online incitement, totalling around 150 posts over the past four months.

It shouldn’t really need pressure from the state to tackle incitement and Facebook should really pre-empt the issue but the steps the Israeli security authorities are helping to implement are welcome. Under this agreement, the Israeli security authorities search for and flag up extremist material, pass it on to Facebook, which then makes a decision on whether or not to remove the content.

It should be noted that Facebook has no legal responsibility to remove the material, which is going to be interesting in the least since it says it remains committed to enforcing its terms of use, which include prohibitions on the promotion of terror.

Online incitement is a particular cause for concern in the climate of social media activism, keyboard warriors and armchair commanders. Months and months of complaints have been generated by Israeli ministers who felt that the online incitement was a major reason that led to a wave of stabbings and car rammings that have become far more prevalent in Israel from October 2015.

In particular, intelligence analysts have found that social media rumours about the Al-Aqsa mosque were often a trigger for attacks, which were largely uncoordinated, spur-of-the-moment stabbings.
And just to confirm that these actions aren’t draconian or disproportionate we are talking about the kind of online content that includes phrasings such as ‘Death to the Jews’, ‘Death to the Arabs’, or ‘Slaughter the Jews’.

The issue of online incitement is a serious problem and it is echoed through official channels. For instance, take the incitement of Jibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah official who is in the running to succeed Mahmoud Abbas. Rajoub has claimed that the Fatah movement “bless and encourage” those carrying out the recent wave of civilian stabbings, calling them “heroes”. He has also honoured Muhannad Halabi, who stabbed two Israeli civilians to death in January, by holding a table tennis tournament in his name. Rajoub has called stabbings “individual acts of bravery”, and appeared on official PA TV to say “I congratulate everyone who carried them out”.

About the Author
Saurav Dutt is a published author, lawyer and political columnist who has written for IB Times and been featured in The Independent, Sky News, BBC and more.