Does Facebook treat Israel fairly when it comes to incitement on social media? Could someone devise a wild enough experiment to test the question? On Tuesday, the NGO Shurat Hadin - Israel Law Center, known more for its legal wins against terrorist organizations and state-sponsors of terrorism, continued their recent social media activities with an experiment over the incitement issue.
On December 29, the NGO launched “The Big Facebook Experiment,” which sought to expose what it viewed as double standards regarding anti-Israel sentiment vis-a-vis the simultaneous launch of two Facebook pages: “Stop Palestinians” and “Stop Israel.”
Following the launch of the two nearly-identical pages, the NGO posted hateful content simultaneously on both pages.
A post on the anti-Israel page read, “The Zionist bites Palestine part after part and the world is silent. We’ll stop them any way we can.”
A similar post calling to stomp on the Palestinian enemy on the pro-Israel page read: “Greater land Israel should return soon from the hands of the Muslim enemy back to Jewish sovereignty! We’ll do it in any way we can.”
The pro-Palestinian page promised to “demolish the Zionist invader,” and called for revenge against the “Zionist enemy that threatens al-Aksa.”
A call to rise up against Israel was portrayed in a caricature of a crocodile bearing the Star of David, with the Temple Mount compound in its mouth and a knife nested against its snout. Words accompanying the image called for “Death to all the Jews.”
Meanwhile, on the pro-Israel page, a post calling to wage war against the “Palestinian enemy” claimed, “More and more soldiers in the IDF know that there is a need to destroy the Arab enemy.” Another post featured a collage of so-called “price tag” attacks. An accompanying caption called for “Death to all the Arabs.”
Next, Shurat Hadin’s reported both faux-incitement pages to Facebook to see which, if either, would be removed.
Despite featuring nearly identical content, Shurat Hadin said that only one was removed from the online platform.
The page inciting against Palestinians was closed by Facebook (on the same day that it was reported) for “containing credible threat of violence” which “violated our [Facebook’s] community standards,” said Shurat Hadin. The page inciting against Israelis, however, was not shut down, despite its identical hateful content. Shurat Hadin said that Facebook claimed that this page was “not in violation of Facebook’s rules.”
Facebook did not respond to inquiries about the story by press time.
An inquiry to Dr. Gilad Ravid, a lecturer and researcher of social networks from the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, about whether Facebook was balanced and whether Shurat Hadin’s experiment was appropriate, also went unanswered by press time.
Shurat Hadin’s staged anti-Israel group “Stop Israel” still remains active on Facebook.
“The Big Facebook Experiment” follows an unprecedented lawsuit in New York state court, filed in October by the NGO against Facebook on behalf of 20,000 Israelis claiming that the social networking platform allows Palestinian terrorists to incite violent attacks against Israeli citizens and Jews in general.
The lead plaintiff, Israeli-American Richard Lankin, 76, was a passenger on a Jerusalem bus on October 13 when Palestinian terrorists from east Jerusalem, armed with guns and knives, carried out a brutal attack.
Lankin was shot in the head and stabbed multiple times. He eventually died of his wounds.
Two other Israelis were murdered, and more than 20 were wounded in the bus attack.
The plaintiffs, other than Lankin, have a debatable chance to sue since they have not been harmed and are not citizens. However, they say the Facebook incitement endangers all of them and are thus seeking an injunction to require it to self-monitor and block all racist incitement or calls for violence against Jews in Israel.
The complaint acknowledges that Facebook has established some rules concerning the prohibited content, but alleges the rules are not sufficient nor adequately enforced.
The plaintiffs argue that Facebook is “far from a neutral or passive social media platform and cannot claim it is a mere bulletin board for other parties’ postings.”
They note that Facebook “utilizes sophisticated algorithms to serve personalized ads, monitor users’ activities and connect them to potential friends” and claim it “has the ability to monitor and block postings by extremists and terrorists urging violence, just as it restricts pornography.”