Facebook deletes Hamas-linked Safa news agency’s page

Move comes amid Palestinian complaints that social network is shuttering journalists’ accounts as part of crackdown on incitement

A computer screen displays the logo of the social networking site Facebook, taken in Manchester, England, on March 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Oili Scarff)
A computer screen displays the logo of the social networking site Facebook, taken in Manchester, England, on March 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Oili Scarff)

Facebook has reportedly been deleting Palestinian accounts for alleged incitement, including the page of a news outlet affiliated with the Hamas terror group.

Palestinians say the recent deletions are part of a new policy by the company targeting inflammatory content, which they allege has unfairly swept up journalists and bloggers.

The matter came to the fore over the weekend, after Facebook deleted the account of the Gaza-based Safa news agency, which is close to Hamas.

Reporters and editors from Safa protested the closure in Gaza Saturday, defending the outlet as a reliable news source and calling on Facebook not to bow to alleged Israeli pressure.

According to the Palestinians, the Facebook crackdown intensified after the killing of Ahmed Jarrar, a Hamas terrorist who was part of a cell that killed Rabbi Raziel Shevach in the northern West Bank in January. Israeli security forces killed Jarrar in a shootout on February 6 in the village of al Yamoun, near Jenin.

Palestinian activists and journalists launched a campaign last month to protest Facebook over the deleted pages.

Ahmad Nassar Jarrar, 22, head of the terror cell who shot dead Rabbi Raziel Shevach in the West Bank on January 9 (Twitter)

Since the beginning of the year, Facebook has deleted the accounts of some 500 activists and journalists, as well as bloggers and news pages like the Islamic Jihad-linked Palestine Now, according to a Palestinian activist quoted by the Haaretz daily on Sunday.

The deletion of Safa’s account came after last week’s visit to Israel by Delphine Reyre, Facebook’s director of policy in Europe.

While in Israel, Reyre took part in a conference on fighting hate speech on the internet and met with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who praised Facebook’s efforts to crack down on terror incitement.

“Terror organizations have moved to operating on Twitter instead of Facebook. The reason is simple: Facebook is effectively responsibility to requests to remove terror conenct, Twitter ignores,” tweeted Shaked, who added that Israel is weighing “legal steps.”

Her comments led to a sharp drop in Twitter’s share price.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks during the 6th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism conference at the Jerusalem Convention Center, on March 20, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel has long accused Facebook of facilitating Palestinian incitement against Israelis, especially during a wave of hundreds of attacks that began in October 2015 and which security services said were fueled by online incitement.

In January of last year, the so-called Facebook bill, which would allow the state to seek court orders to force the social media giant to remove certain content based on police recommendations, passed its first reading in the Knesset, though it has yet to come up for further readings. The government says the bill would have only been invoked in cases of suspected incitement, where there is a real possibility that the material in question endangers the public or national security.

Additionally, in April, families of five Americans murdered or injured in recent Palestinian terror attacks in Israel filed a billion-dollar lawsuit against Facebook for failing to ban the Gaza-based terror group Hamas from using its platform.

Facebook has pushed back on Israeli claims that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has “some of the blood” of Israeli terror victims on his hands for not censoring Palestinian incitement and hate speech.

Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.

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