Ministers vote to advance bill targeting Facebook incitement

Legislation would give court authority to force Facebook, Google to block content deemed to endanger security

This file photo taken on November 21, 2016, shows Facebook logos pictured on the screens of a smartphone (R), and a laptop computer, in central London. (AFP)
This file photo taken on November 21, 2016, shows Facebook logos pictured on the screens of a smartphone (R), and a laptop computer, in central London. (AFP)

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday advanced the so-called Facebook bill, which would allow the state to seek court orders to force the social media group to remove certain content based on police recommendations.

The government says the bill will only be invoked in cases of suspected incitement, where there is a real possibility that the material in question endangers the public or national security. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked proposed the bill in July, two weeks after after Shaked and Erdan met with Facebook officials in the Knesset.

Facebook claims that it already provides governments with the ability to block content.

“When governments believe that something on the Internet violates their laws, they may contact companies like Facebook and ask us to restrict access to that content. When we receive such a request, it is scrutinized to determine if the specified content does indeed violate local laws. If we determine that it does, then we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory,” the social media network says in its guidelines.

Defending his legislation, Erdan said European countries such as France and Germany already have similar laws in place, and Facebook complies with them. According to a spokesman for the minister, Facebook recently agreed to remove just 23 out of 74 pages brought to its attention by Israel for spreading alleged Palestinian incitement. “Their policy of removing [content] is very, very, very strict and the bar is set very high,” the spokesman told The Times of Israel in July.

Furthermore, Facebook does not recognize Israeli control in the West Bank, the spokesman said. “If someone writes something problematic and they live in Judea and Samaria, [Facebook] won’t cooperate with us and they say it’s outside of Israel and therefore they can’t cooperate,” he said. Facebook declined to comment on that allegation.

Finally, he continued, when the Israel Police’s cybercrime unit turns to Facebook with urgent requests to remove posts, officers are forced to contact the company’s office in Ireland, even though it has a large corporate presence in Israel. The process for removing even virulent incitement “could take several hours or more, and we don’t have time for this — we need an immediate response.”

But legal experts warn that the social media giant won’t necessarily comply with such orders and with local laws, and may even be turned off the Israeli market; that the legislation is “clumsy,” requiring a lengthy legal process for content removal; and that Israel already has incitement laws on the books for online content but rarely enforces them.

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