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Op-Ed: Facebook working with Israel to censor posts inciting violence

Facebook has recently added ‘fake news’ sites to those barred from using the service. Some countries such as China, North Korea and Iran ban Facebook entirely. A number of other countries have banned it for certain periods.

Facebook’s own censorship moves have sometimes come under fire. A famous example is the iconic photo of the young Vietnamese “Napalm Girl” removed because it violated the Facebook ban on child nudity. Facebook even deleted the photo when it was posted by the PM of Norway as a protest. Eventually Facebook relented citing the history and global importance of the image. The example shows what can happen however.

Now there are reports that Facebook and the Israeli government are working on ways to tackle incitement to violence on the site. Israel is taking legislative steps intended to force social networks to control content that the Israeli government sees as inciting violence. Facebook appears to be heading off such a threat by working with the Israeli government to decide what Facebook content should be censored. Israel has argued that violence by Palestinians has been fueled by incitement through content posted on social media.

Alex Kane already reported last June that Israel was actively surveilling Palestinians’ postings and had even arrested some on the basis of their posts. The Israeli government is concerned about the manner in which Facebook has been used by Palestinians in organizing. Kane notes: “A demonstration against the Israeli occupation can be organized in a matter of hours, while the monitoring of Palestinians is made easier by the large digital footprint they leave on their laptops and mobile phones.”

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked met with Facebook representatives. She has proposed legislation that would force social media networks to remove content that Israel considers incitement to violence. She boasted that Facebook has already been quite compliant with Israeli demands: “Over the past four months Israel submitted 158 requests to Facebook to remove inciting content,” she said, and Facebook has accepted those requests in 95 percent of the cases.”

Palestinians have also complained that social media are used by Israeli anti-Palestinian activists to incite violence against them. Settlers often post calls for vengeance against Palestinians when an Israeli is attacked. Justice Minister Shaked has herself in the past posted extremist and violence-creating rhetoric on Facebook in 2014.

As the Intercept notes the violence created made its way back online: YouTube and Facebook videos show hundreds of angry Israeli mobs running around chanting, “Death to Arabs,” and looking for Palestinians to attack. A video of an Israeli Jew attacking a Palestinian on a public bus shouting, “Filthy Arabs, filthy Arab murderers of children,” emerged from Tel Aviv. And more video footage showing Israeli security forces using excessive force on a handcuffed Palestinian-American boy further called into question who was really inciting this chaos.

No doubt Facebook will follow the wishes of those who have the most power and could have most negative effects on their profits. Facebook is quite unlikely to censor the posts of prominent Israelis that call for increased violence or repression of Palestinians. Censorship will be designed to increase the power of the powerful and reduce the power of the Palestinians using social media as one of the few weapons available to them.

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