A new report by 7amleh: The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media shows an increase in inciting posts by Israelis against Palestinians on Israeli social networks.
The report, shared Tuesday by the NGO Al-Shabaka – The Palestinian Policy Network, also claims Israel is using predictive social media policing systems to increasingly limit Palestinians’ freedom of expression.
The report was authored by Nadim Nashif, 7amleh’s executive director.
Inciting content was posted every 66 seconds in 2018, up from every 71 seconds in 2017, according to the report. Further, one out of 10 social media posts against Arab Israelis denies Palestinian identity, contains hate speech or calls for such violence as rape and murder. In 2017, it was one out of nine.
In total, in 2018, there were some 474,250 inciting posts against Palestinians on Israeli social networks, according to the report. The main catalyst for these posts was the passing of the Nation-State Law, which was passed on May 1, 2018. The law specified the nature of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, but at the same time downgraded Arabic from an official language to one with “special status,” and was seen by many – especially Arab lawmakers – as making discrimination in Israel constitutional.
A few months before the law was passed, more than 115,000 posts went live that included insults, racism and calls for violence against Palestinians.
“This shows how politicians influence the escalation and de-escalation of hatred,” explained Nashif in a summary of the report.
The report notes that the majority (66%) of incitement against Palestinians is on Facebook, especially on the pages of Israeli news sites and right-wing groups. Many of the posts on the news sites are directed at Arab members of Knesset, Arab-Israeli or Palestinian politicians or parties. Some, however, were directed against the Arab citizens of Israel in general.
The second-largest percentage (16%) of inciting posts were tweeted on Twitter. Last year, only 7% of inciting posts were on Twitter.
In addition, the report claims that Israel is using artificial intelligence techniques to “locate users by matching traits like age, gender and location with keywords like ‘resistance’ and ‘martyr.’” Then, it says, Israeli authorities censor these people’s posts and pages, deleting their accounts and, in some cases, arresting these posters.
“The Israeli government bears responsibility for the continued and increasing incitement against Arabs and Palestinians on social networks,” Nashif said. “As Facebook is the main source of violence and incitement online, especially on right-wing Israeli news pages, we will continue to advocate for Facebook to review their policies and to prevent incitement, hatred and racism online.”
THE ISRAELI government has in the past accused Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians of using social networks to incite terrorism against Israelis.
In July 2018, a bill that would have allowed the state to seek court orders to force Facebook and other social media sites to remove certain content based on police recommendations was given the go-ahead for a final Knesset vote. At the final hour, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested the bill be reconsidered, partially due to local and international criticism that it would curtail freedom of speech and expression.
The bill originally surfaced due to an understanding that social media had become the fuel and detonator of the 2015-2016 “knife intifada,” and would have allowed Israeli authorities to block posts from any website featuring user-generated content, including Google, Twitter and Facebook, from being seen by Israeli viewers.
Similarly, the Israeli watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch has been calling on Facebook to close down Fatah’s official Facebook page. In February, PMW’s CEO Itamar Marcus and head of legal strategies Maurice Hirsch published a report that claimed Palestinian terrorists carried out attacks in 2018 “influenced by Fatah’s glorification of murder and its promotion of violence” on its Facebook page.
The 45-page report showed how Fatah’s posts glorified mass murderers and other terrorists who were responsible for hundreds of murders, which included not only Israelis but Americans and others.
“These posts breached both Facebook’s Counter-Terrorism Policy and Facebook’s Community Standards,” wrote PMW in a letter sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“Whereas raising the social status of any terrorist murderer can have a negative impact, especially on youth, by repeatedly honoring terrorists through Facebook while the terrorist attack is still headline news, Fatah is sending the worst possible message to all Palestinians – that murdering Israelis is not only desirable, but is also the fastest path to honor and fame for the terrorist and his or her entire family,” said Marcus.
Facebook has reported that it is working closely with the Israeli government’s cyber-crime unit to track community violations. It is also working on artificial intelligence tools to help catch these kinds of posts in real time. However, the social media giant relies heavily on its community members to report incitement.
AT THE end of his report, Nashif offered policy recommendations, including that Facebook and the other social networking platforms should develop and enforce fair and effective content moderation policies. Simultaneously, civil society and activists should work with the social media giants to pursue coordinated efforts to monitor, document, analyze and report online incitement. These efforts, he recommended, could be funded by the donor community.
Finally, Nashif called on the Israeli government to act against online rhetoric and to protect its Arab citizens in the same way it strives to protect its Jewish citizens.
“Such endeavors would increase Palestinians’ ability to exercise their right to safely express themselves online,” Nashif said.