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Facebook suspends Netanyahu’s chatbot for seeking to ID unvaccinated Israelis

Social media giant also deletes post by PM over privacy violation, says its platform cannot be used to request medical information

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives a coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, on December 19, 2020, becoming the first in Israel to get the vaccine (AMIR COHEN / POOL / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives a coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, on December 19, 2020, becoming the first in Israel to get the vaccine (AMIR COHEN / POOL / AFP)

Facebook on Monday deleted a post by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and suspended a chatbot operated by his official account for a week for violating the social media network’s privacy policy.

The chatbot had been sending private messages to followers, asking them to provide personal details of people over the age of 60 who haven’t yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus, adding that the premier will then persuade them to get the inoculation, Facebook Israel said in a statement.

The same request was featured in the deleted post.

“In accordance with our privacy policy, we don’t allow content that shares or asks for people’s medical information,” the company said.

Illustrative: A chatbot message which purports to be from the prime minister gathers information about users’ voting intentions, despite Facebook’s request to stop using it. (Screenshot, March 21, 2019)

Responding to the decision, the Likud party said that the social media campaign “aimed to encourage Israelis over the age of 60 to get vaccinated in order to save their lives after Prime Minister Netanyahu brought vaccines to every Israeli citizen.”

“We call on everyone to get vaccinated so that we can open up the economy and be the first in the world to emerge from the coronavirus,” the statement added.

Illustrative: Employees of the Competence Call Center (CCC) work for the Facebook Community Operations Team in Essen, Germany, November 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The suspension is not the first time Netanyahu has faced sanctions from the social media giant over the use of its chatbot.

On the day of the September 2019 election, Facebook suspended Netanyahu’s chatbot from early afternoon until polls closed, after it illegally shared polling information, which is banned in Israel during a national ballot.

A Facebook spokesperson said at the time that it was “working with elections officials around the world to help ensure the integrity of the elections. Our policy explicitly states that developers are required to obey all laws applicable in the country where their application is accessible.”

A week before that election, Facebook had temporarily suspended the bot after it warned visitors of a possible “secular left-wing weak government that relies on Arabs who want to destroy us all — women, children and men.” Netanyahu insisted he did not share that view of Arabs, and said the bot’s message wasn’t written by him.

Earlier this month, Facebook temporarily suspended then-US president Donald Trump from its platform after he incited his supporters to storm the US Capitol in a deadly assault on January 6. The company said this seek that it will refer the continuation of the ban to a semi-independent oversight body.

Twitter has already permanently banned Trump from its platform.

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