Social media as a platform for Palestinian incitement.
(photo credit: MEMRI)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced on Wednesday that they expect their much-anticipated bill for removing terrorism content from the Internet and social media to be approved by the government on Sunday.
The bill would empower courts to order social media providers such as Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter to remove content which is, in itself, criminal and constitutes a danger to personal, public or state security.
Shaked said that the effect of such posts “going viral, where what one person types in one place creates a genuine storm which can even lead to killings in another place, without any measure of control or law enforcement capability, is grossly unreasonable and must end.”
Erdan added: “Despite the incitement leading to terrorism, Facebook and social media companies do not respond to all of the complaints by police for removal of posts of incitement.”
The bill would give vast powers to the state that it currently lacks in standard proceedings.
That could allow it to seek court orders for removal of content without notifying the social media platform, introduce classified evidence, or bring evidence which would not normally be admissible.
In justifying these unusual powers, the ministers have emphasized the uniqueness of the problem and that content removal is not a criminal proceeding, in which removing standard defenses is a more serious action that can end with a jail sentence.
Additionally, if someone is convicted of a crime for such a post, the conditions for its removal can be assumed to have been proven.
On June 22, the ministers had instructed their respective ministries and the police to draft the legislation.
The expected principles of the bill were advertised on June 22. They would start with the state issuing a warning letter to the Internet domain name and social media providers which indirectly host or have the ability as site administrators to remove the content.
If the providers remove the terrorist content there would be no further action.
If they did not remove the content, the bill would allow the state to request the courts to order the providers to do so. However, Wednesday’s announcement was unclear as to whether threat letters would be issued in all cases or whether some would go straight to court.
Wednesday’s announcement also did not clarify if the sanctions against providers that ignore the court order would include criminal sanctions, a point which the bill’s promoters have treated inconsistently.
The bill moved forward as ministers made aggressive statements, despite Shaked’s September 21 announcement that Facebook removed 95% of 158 inciting posts and YouTube, owned by Google, removed 80% of 13 videos at the government’s request.
“These are impressive numbers; however, we understand that there is too much online incitement, and we must continue to increase our efforts,” Shaked said at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s World Summit at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya in September.
Various petitions to courts in the past to remove content that could cause incitement have often failed because of free speech concerns, such as a 2012 petition by then- MK Taleb a-Sana to order Google to remove a YouTube video disgracing the prophet Muhammad.
The bill would carve out an exception to free speech concerns for incitement to terrorism as has been done in recent years in other criminal areas, such as child pornography