Facebook officials visit Israel amid incitement claims

Aim of delegation is to increase cooperation against social media posts that lead to terror, Netanyahu says

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

File: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, March 2, 2015. (David Ramos/Getty Images via JTA)
File: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, March 2, 2015. (David Ramos/Getty Images via JTA)

Senior Facebook officials are in Israel to meet with government representatives and civil servants in an effort to jointly stem the online incitement that the Israeli government says leads to terror activities.

“The aim is to increase cooperation against incitement, incitement to terror and murder on social networks,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, where he announced the Facebook delegation’s visit to Israel. “Terror groups use the internet to hurt humanity. We are determined to fight this phenomenon so I welcome this cooperation, or at least the willingness to cooperate, that Facebook is demonstrating which we hope will yield better results.”

The Facebook delegation is headed by two senior officials, Joel Kaplan, vice president of Global Public Policy and a former deputy chief of staff for policy at the White House, and Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of product policy and counterterrorism, a person familiar with the matter said.

The social media giant and other global social media operations have been slammed by Israeli officials for hosting Palestinian incitement that they claim leads to terror activity.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) in July lambasted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for allowing Palestinian incitement and hate speech on his social media site. Erdan charged that Facebook hinders Israeli police efforts to catch terrorists and declared that Zuckerberg has “some of the blood” of Israeli teenager Hallel Yaffa Ariel on his hands. Ariel was stabbed to death in her bed in June by a Palestinian teenager who publicized his desire to die for the Palestinian cause in a number of Facebook posts in recent months.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has also said that social media giants Google and Facebook must be held accountable for criminal activity on their websites, and Erdan and Shaked are drafting a new law that aims to “remove offensive content from social media” as part of their campaign to fight online incitement.

Erdan and Shaked’s law aims to block access to offensive content and messages that incite to terror and will call for “complete removal” of the post through a court injunction against any party involved in its publication. Content removed would include posts that promote terror, shaming and defamation and insult public workers, the ministers said.

Facebook has rejected such claims and has asserted that it works “on a regular basis with security organizations and policy makers throughout the world, including in Israel, in order to ensure that people know how to use Facebook safely.”

“There is no room on our platform for content that encourages violence, direct threats, terror or verbal abuse. We have an array of clear-cut community guidelines meant to help people understand what is permitted on Facebook, and we call on people to make use of our reporting tools if they come across content that they believe violates these guidelines, so that we can evaluate each incident and take swift action,” Facebook said in a statement at the time.

A spokeswoman for Facebook in Israel declined to comment on the visit.

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