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When it comes to incitement,
is Facebook biased against Israel?

The Jerusalem Post| January 5, 2016


Social media has, for years now, served as a driving force behind terrorism, giving an easily accessible platform to the tech-savvy generation which connects extremists with would-be Jihadis worldwide.

With the proliferation of anti-Israel Facebook pages and trending twitter hashtags, cyber jihad has grown to be all too familiar and difficult to control. As jihad accounts are removed from respective networks, new ones are immediately launched in their place, brewing the anti-Israel sentiment that serves as a catalyst for the violence carried out by the young jihadis behind Israel's latest terror wave.

Shurat HaDin, an Israeli based civil rights organization, set out in late December to test whether Facebook holds double standards when it comes to incitement. The NGO launched "The Big Facebook Experiment," which sought to expose the reality of anti-Israel sentiment vis-a-vis the simultaneous launch of two Facebook pages: "Stop Palestinians" and "Stop Israel."

Following the launch of the two nearly-identical pages on December 29, the NGO posted hateful content simultaneously on both pages over the course of the next few days.

A post on the anti-Israel page read, "The Zionist bites Palestine part after part and the world is silent. We'll stop them any way we can," whereas an identical post calling to stomp on the Palestinian enemy on the pro-Israel page read: "Greater land Israel should return soon from the hands of the Muslim enemy back to Jewish sovereignty! We'll do it in any way we can."

The pro-Palestinian page promised to "demolish the Zionist invader," and called for revenge against the "Zionist enemy that threatens al-Aksa." A call to rise up against Israel was portrayed in a caricature featuring a Star of David bearing crocodile with the Temple Mount compound perched beneath the roof of its mouth and a knife nested against its snout - an accompanying post to the illustration called for "death to all the Jews."

Meanwhile, on the pro-Israel page, a post calling to wage war against the "Palestinian enemy" claimed that "more and more soldiers in the IDF know that there is a need to destroy the Arab enemy." Another post featured a collage of a handful of so-called "price tag" attacks and an accompanying caption calling for "death to all the Arabs."

The next step in Shurat HaDin's experiment was to report both faux-incitement pages to Facebook to see which, if either, would be removed under the auspices of hateful content. 

Despite featuring identical content, however, only one was removed from the online platform.

The page inciting against Palestinians was closed by Facebook (on the same day that it was reported) for "containing credible threat of violence" which "violated our [Facebook's] community standards." The page inciting against Israelis, however, was not shut down, despite its identical hateful content. Facebook claimed that this page was "not in violation of Facebook's rules."

Shurat HaDin's staged anti-Israel group "Stop Israel" still remains active on Facebook. 

"The Big Facebook Experiment" backs an unprecedented lawsuit which was filed in October by Shurat HaDin law center against Facebook on behalf of 20,000 Israelis to stop allowing Palestinian terrorists to incite violent attacks against Israeli citizens on the social network's platform.

The complaint, filed in response to the ongoing wave of terror in Israel, sought an injunction against Facebook which would require stricter monitoring of incitement and immediate response to complaints about anti-Israel or violence-inducing content. 

Shurat HaDin argued that Facebook acts as a non-neutral platform and cannot be considered a mere "publisher of speech" since its complex algorithms connect terrorists to inciters and would-be jihadis.

According to the NGO, "Facebook actively assists the inciters to find people who are interested in acting on their hateful messages by offering friend, group and event suggestions and targeting advertising based on people’s online 'likes' and internet browsing history."  Additionally, Facebook often gives incitement pages the freedom to operate and continue operation despite reports of hateful content, under the claim that they do not violate its "community standards."

"Calling on people to commit crimes is not constitutionally protected speech and endangers the lives of Jews and Israelis," Shurat HaDin said in its claim. 

The NGO promised to pursue the claims until Facebook ceases to "allow itself to serve as a tool for terrorists to transmit their rabble rousing messages to their followers and that incitement to anti-Semitic violence will not be tolerated on its website."

Copyright 2016 The Jerusalem Post. All rights reserved.

Shurat HaDin - Israel Law Center
10 Hata'as St. Ramat Gan, 52512 Israel
Phone: 972-3-7514175    |    Fax: 972-3-7514174

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