Israel, Facebook to set up joint anti-incitement teams

Ministers meet with senior officials from the social media site to find ways to remove content Israel deems leads to terror

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

Public security minister Gilad Erdan (Right), and Facebook's Joel Kaplan and Monika Bickert together with justice minister Ayelet Shaked at meeting on Sept. 12, 2016 (Courtesy)
Public security minister Gilad Erdan (Right), and Facebook's Joel Kaplan and Monika Bickert together with justice minister Ayelet Shaked at meeting on Sept. 12, 2016 (Courtesy)

Israel and Facebook have agreed to set up joint teams to reach an agreement on how to fight online incitement.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan met Monday morning with senior Facebook officials in an effort to jointly stem online incitement that Israel claims leads to terror activities.

The Facebook officials included 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.

“The meeting took place under the assumption that Facebook has the capability, the responsibility and the willingness to help mitigate incitement and terror from the network,” a joint statement issued by Shaked and Erdan said.

The recent spate of terror attacks Israel has witnessed was characterized by a number of terrorists who admitted, in their interrogation, to have been influenced by incitement on social networks, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms, the statement said.

“Israel is at the forefront of a battle against terror and also in a war against network incitement,” Shaked said. “Particularly in the week in which we remember 9/11, an event that changed the face of the US, it is clear that there is a joint interest among all parties that are in a position to fight terror.”

Shaked said she got the impression there is a willingness on Facebook’s part to cooperate. “Facebook and other social networks can do more in the war against incitement,” she added.

In the meeting Israel requested that Facebook be more proactive in removing materials that could be seen as incitement to terror and the joint teams will study how to work together to serve the interests of both parties, a person familiar with the matter said.

“Facebook and internet companies have a responsibility regarding the content they allow on their sites that encourages incitement and terror, and they should actively operate to monitor it,” Erdan said. “In the recent spate of terror it was proven that the internet has become a home to incubate terrorists and we must fight together to prevent this. The companies must and can do much more.”

In a speech at a conference in Herzliya, also on Monday, Shaked said that Facebook has already started removing 95 percent of content Israel has requested it to remove, while YouTube has complied with Israel’s requests 80 percent of the time, the Israeli news website Ynet reported.

The Facebook delegation’s visit to Israel is part of the company’s “ongoing dialogue with policymakers and experts around the world to keep terrorist content off our platform and support counterspeech initiatives,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email. “Online extremism can only be tackled with a strong partnership between policymakers, civil society, academia and companies, and this is true in Israel and around the world. We had constructive discussions about these important issues and look forward to a continued dialogue and cooperation.”

“Facebook has zero tolerance for terrorism. We want people to feel safe when using Facebook, and for that reason, we’ve developed a set of Community Standards which make it clear there is no place for terrorists or content that promotes terrorism on Facebook. We value spending time with local experts on the ground around the world to help us understand local context to inform these standards,” the spokesperson said.

The Facebook delegation also met with civil servants and with representatives from the Prime Minister’s office.

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 13-year-old Israeli 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 or insult public workers, the ministers said.

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