Israeli watchdog accuses Facebook of promoting Palestinian terrorism

Palestinian Media Watch on Tuesday released a report documenting dozens of incidents in which Fatah used its page to promote violence, glorify murderers of Israelis and bolster terrorists as role models.

By
September 11, 2019 01:55
On January 1, 2019 Fatah posted a picture of young girls armed with assault rifles leading a Fatah m

On January 1, 2019 Fatah posted a picture of young girls armed with assault rifles leading a Fatah military procession. The post text: “Fatah’s flowers.”. (photo credit: screenshot)

An Jerusalem-based watchdog group has accused Facebook of being an accomplice to terrorism for its continued refusal to shut down the official Fatah Facebook page.

Palestinian Media Watch
(PMW) on Tuesday released a report documenting dozens of incidents in which Fatah used its page to promote violence and glorify murderers of Israelis.

The 42-page report is the second of its kind. The previous report, published in February 2019, tracked Fatah’s Facebook activity the year before. Both reports were sent to Facebook.

According to PMW’s CEO Itamar Marcus, the first report was not only reviewed by the social networking site, but Marcus had a 45-minute conversation with the director of Facebook’s global counterterrorism policy team, Brian Fishman, about its findings.

“During our conversation, I emphasized that every time Fatah posts a new terror message on Facebook encouraging violence or presenting murderers as role models, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are given more motivation to kill Israelis,” Marcus told The Jerusalem Post. “Facebook still chooses to do nothing to stop it.

“Their willingness to ignore the role they are playing in Fatah’s terror promotion is incomprehensible,” he said. “Whereas in 2018 Facebook was an unwitting accomplice in Fatah’s terror promotion, Facebook is Fatah’s partner by choice in 2019.”

Marcus said that PMW notified Facebook in real-time about many of these terrorism-promoting posts during the first half of 2019, but Facebook chose to ignore its complaints.

“Facebook has closed accounts of many extremist groups and other terrorism promoters, but even though Fatah’s terror promotion clearly violates Facebook’s Community Standards, Facebook has chosen to look the other way,” he said. “Given the importance of social media in disseminating hate and promoting terror in today’s world, Facebook is now a prime terror promoter for Fatah.”


Several Fatah Facebook posts between March and June 2019 praise "Martyr Omar Abu Laila." (Photo Credit: Screenshot)

In 2005, the UN Security Council warned about the link between glorifying terrorism and terrorist attacks when it unanimously passed Resolution 1624, which included the following: “[The UN is] condemning also in the strongest terms the incitement of terrorist acts and repudiating attempts at the justification or glorification (apologie) of terrorist acts that may incite further terrorist acts.”

Further, at least three mass shootings in the last year — including the mosque killings in Christchurch, New Zealand, the synagogue shooting in Poway, California, and the El Paso, Texas Walmart shooting — have been announced in advance on social media sites, often accompanied by racist writings that seem engineered to go viral on the Internet.

“Social media companies didn’t realize the role their platforms can have for terrorism,” Fishman said in a talk delivered on Monday at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism conference in Herzliya. But he said there has been a sea change.

“Social media companies are now focused on this problem,” he said, but “we don’t always know what to do. The basic approach at Facebook is that terrorists are not allowed. By policy there may be no praise, support or representation of a terrorist organization, a terrorist actor, a terrorist event, etc.”

However, he admitted that despite his own team of seven professionals and another 350 people “whose primary job, whose primary responsibility, is dealing with terrorist organizations and hate groups etc…It’s really challenging.”

Fishman said that the expectation on the company by its users and by the community globally is that it be able to respond to terror-related posts in real time, but the company is not quite there yet.

“Every piece of content that gets reported to us by our community gets reviewed, and if there is a suggestion that it supports or praised terrorism it will be escalated,” he said at the conference. “This stuff can be tricky, and the scale of this effort is gigantic, and because of that scale automation is increasingly important. When I say automation, I use that as something of a catch all.

“Can you automatically find all the terrorist stuff and take it down?” he asked. “We do find a lot and take it down, but sometimes we have to find it and send it to a reviewer.”

He said Facebook has to identify the language – the platform supports more than 90 languages. Fishman said a piece of content that is written in Bahasit Indonesian using Arabic script mixed with roman script gets to a reviewer that understands all those things in context.

“Underneath the surface, this creates a tremendous amount of complexity,” he said. “There is no silver bullet to find all terrorist material.”

But Marcus said that the report demonstrates clearly the nature of the posts on Fatah’s official page, to which Facebook has turned a blind eye. 

The report shows images and English translations of posts on the page, including one as early as January 1 in which Fatah posted a picture of young girls armed with assault rifles leading a Fatah military procession. The post text: “Fatah’s flowers.”

It shows multiple posts elevating Omar Abu Laila, the terrorist who this year murdered two Israelis, one of them a father of 12. Laila was killed by the IDF when he resisted arrest.

On the day he was killed, Abu Laila’s photo was uploaded to the Fatah Facebook page praising him as “heroic Martyr Omar Abu Laila.” Throughout the first six months of the year, he was called “the ideal example,” “the perfect person,” and praised by Deputy Chairman of Fatah Mahmoud Al-Aloul with the words, “We are extremely proud, this is Omar Abu Laila... he represents all of you, represents all young Palestinians.”

Many of the posts highlighted in the report are still visible on Fatah’s social networking page, while others appear to have been taken down or perhaps removed.

An online petition calls on the public to “Please join us in our campaign to get Facebook to shut down Fatah’s Facebook page. Send a letter now to Brian Fishman, Facebook’s director of terrorism policy, to stop the proliferation of terrorism on the platform.”

A Fatah spokesperson told the Post that “the only incitement is coming from Israel and its right-wing government,” and denied the contents of the report.

Facebook was unable to respond by deadline. However, in response to the 2018 report, a spokeswoman for Facebook told the Post that Facebook takes down posts that go against its community policy when they are reported.

Facebook has reported it is working closely with the Israeli government’s cybercrime unit to track community violations.


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