A bill that would penalize social media networks that do not swiftly move to delete posts supporting terror attacks passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday.
The new legislation would level fines of NIS 300,000 ($78,000) per post on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that do not remove posts calling for terror attacks within 48 hours of their publication.
Written by Zionist Union MK Revital Swid, the bill must now pass through a review committee and three further plenum votes before it becomes law.
Swid said the legislation was dedicated to Richard Lakin, 76, who was killed in a Jerusalem terror attack in October 2015. One of the two terrorists who carried out the attack had previously posted on his Facebook page a call for martyrdom that was shared by many people.
Haviv Haim, 78, and Alon Govberg, 51, were also killed when two terrorists raided Egged bus 78 in Jerusalem, shooting and stabbing the passengers on board. An additional 15 people were injured in the attack.
The bill enjoys widespread support in the current Knesset, with 21 MKs signed as sponsors from a broad cross-section of parties, including Zionist Union, Likud, Shas, Kulanu, Hatnua, Yisrael Beytenu and Yesh Atid.
It sailed through its preliminary vote by 50 to 4, with one abstention.
The explanatory notes for the bill state that “in recent months, the state of Israel is dealing with a wave of terror attacks by individuals, while alongside this, considerable aggravation of incitement to terrorism is spreading through cyberspace in general and in particular social networks.”
The bill noted that some social media posts clearly urge readers to become martyrs (by dying in an attack), as well as offering instructional videos that show exactly how to carry out murders. It called on the social media giants to respond to incitement to violence in the same speedy manner in which they respond to posts containing child abuse or what is deemed to be pornography.
“Facebook is not responsible for the wave of terror but it has the ability to locate and remove those video clips that drives those individuals to go out on to the streets,” the bill noted. “Today they locate and remove within seconds material that contains pornography and pedophilia and in an exactly the same way they can act on content that incites to terror.”
It continued: “In a reality in which social networks are a significant arena for dialogue without any monitoring, we must lay down… civil liability for those who commit the crime of publishing inciting material.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called the legislation “correct, necessary and one could even say imperative.”
“Recently there was a global trend of increased use of the Internet to publish inciting content, which brought about an increase in terror, not just in Israel,” Erdan said. “When you are talking about the young generation and the fact that half of terrorists are aged 20 or less, the platforms on which they receive the message [to carry out attacks] are foremost internet platforms.
“You cannot say that Facebook is responsible only for good, when they are making hundreds of millions of dollars out of us. They also have some form of responsibility.”
But MK Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya of the Joint (Arab) List objected to the bill, claiming it was intended to target Arab social media users.
“All of these laws are only implemented against the Arabs,” he said. “Why doesn’t this law have a section about calls to racism, why only terror? This law is another racist law and another law that continues to express the discrimination [against Arabs].”
The current draft of the bill may place a prohibitive burden on these networks, as it requires social networking companies to spot pro-terror posts on its own, rather than respond to complaints about such posts from users. In March 2016, Facebook figures said some 296,000 posts and 136,000 photos are published on the network each minute from its estimated 1.09 billion active daily users.
Since October, 35 Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed in a spate of car-ramming, stabbing, shooting, and bombing attacks. Some 215 Palestinians have also been killed, most of whom Israel says were involved in attacks or clashes.