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Israel reportedly seeking to make Facebook legally liable for its platform content

Facebook bans COVID-related content but tolerates radical anti-Semitism

Photo: Shutterstock

Israel is considering ways to strip Facebook of its legal protection from incitement and libel and wants to know why the social media giant removes content or bans users. 

Israel’s Channel 12 reported on Sunday that Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel is appointing a team to examine whether Facebook can face prosecution and be liable for some of its content decisions. 

According to the report, Hendel also wants to determine whether Israel can force Facebook to disclose its censorship policies. While other countries are also seeking to hold Facebook legally accountable for content on its platform, the proposed Israeli measures are reportedly unprecedented. 

Despite the fact that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is Jewish, the social media platform has long been accused of tolerating radical anti-Semitism on its platform. In August, The Center for Countering Digital Hatred (CCDH) reported that 80% of anti-Semitic social posts were not taken down by social media outs such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter andTikTok. 

Facebook has refused to take action against radical individuals inciting terrorism online. In June, the daily paper, Israel Hayom, reported that Facebook refused to ban Jerusalem Square, a radical Palestinian Arab media outlet with 1 million followers that use Facebook to incite terrorism against the Jewish state and Israelis. 

Facebook does, however, censor negative content related to COVID-19 and the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.

This comes after Israel’s own Ministry of Health reportedly deleted thousands of comments from its own Facebook page on a post announcing its findings that side effects from the COVID booster shot are negligible. The comments included anecdotal claims by Israelis who suffered negative medical reactions from the shots or knew people who died.

Facebook and other social media sites are not legally liable for false or harmful content posted on their respective platforms. In practice, this means that social media has become a hotbed for radical voices and fake news. 

By contrast, traditional media are legally liable for false claims. Consequently, Facebook has been increasingly criticized for not adequately preventing hate speech, deliberate distortions and racist incitement like anti-Semitism. 

Channel 12 reported that Israeli officials want to engage in a constructive dialogue with Facebook representatives in finding a solution before the Israeli expert team moves ahead with its own policies. The purpose is to pressure Facebook to increasingly embrace transparency and responsibility for its platform or potentially risk facing Israeli government-imposed punitive actions. 

The government-planned measures are expected to be finalized by the end of 2021 and could eventually apply to all social media sites operating in Israel. 

As many users have experienced, Facebook currently does not need to explain why a particular post has been removed from the social media platform. Many critics have long argued that Facebook’s censorship policies are erratic, politicized and opaque. 

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee recently testified before U.S. Congress that the social networking site knows that harmful disinformation is spread on its platform but the social media giant operatives “put their astronomical profits before people.”

Last week, a global outage temporarily took down Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp for six hours. While Zuckerberg apologized to its users for the serious incident, Facebook reportedly lost some $7 billion in the process. 

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The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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