Social media providers may soon be required to remove terrorist content, after a bill to that effect passed a Ministerial Committee for Legislation vote Sunday.
The Removal of Terror-Inciting Content from Social Media bill – dubbed the “Facebook bill” – would empower courts to order companies like Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter to remove posts that the authorities consider “a criminal endangerment to personal, public or national security.”
“At Facebook, nothing is more important than community safety and we work hard to keep people safe. We have zero tolerance for terrorists, praise for their acts and incitement to real-world violence. We work aggressively to remove it from our platform as soon as we become aware of it,” a representative of Facebook in Israel stated following the bill’s approval.
In the past year, the Justice Ministry has submitted 1,755 requests to remove content to the providers, 71% of which received positive responses.
Almost a thousand of those were removed by Facebook alone, and also constitute 71% of the requests made by the Israeli government. This also included content Israeli authorities claim violate defamation laws, adoption laws and Holocaust denial.
“We are constantly looking to improve the effectiveness of our safety measures and have ongoing dialogue with other companies, NGOs and law enforcement to this.
“Just this month, Facebook, along with other US tech companies, announced the creation of a shared industry database of ‘hashes’ – unique digital ‘fingerprints’ – of violent terrorist videos or images, to enable us to act on such content even more quickly.
“This will help us fight terrorism online and is the result of collaboration and cooperation, not regulation,” the Facebook representative stated.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said, “I’m happy to see the Internet companies are cooperating, but it’s important that this cooperation be required, and not according to their whims.” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that “incitement leads to terrorism, but Facebook and other social media companies do not respond to all of the police’s requests to remove such content, or take a long time to do so.”
Therefore, Shaked and Erdan sought broader powers to remove content. Israel now joins several other countries to seek similar legal means that would enable authorities to remove various kinds of content from social networks.
“Israel is not the first country in the world to pass [such a] law. There’s similar legislation in various states in the US, in Canada, Australia, and the UK,” Adv. Adam Snukal, IP and technology shareholder in the Tel Aviv office of international law firm, told The Jerusalem Post
Greenberg Traurig is the only international law firm with offices in Israel and it represents several undisclosed companies to which this bill is relevant.
According to Snukal, the bill is neither an anomaly in the world, nor is it without teeth at a basic level.
“Any social network doing business in Israel – whether because they have a physical presence in Israel or because they knowingly accept users from Israel – is considered [legally] to be doing business in Israel. If a company doing business in Israel fails to follow the laws of the state they themselves become subject to whatever the statute describes,” Snukal told the Post
According to the bill, the state would be able to seek court orders to remove content without giving the social-media platform advance notice, based on classified evidence or evidence that would not be considered admissible in other cases.
Also, if someone is convicted of a crime for a social-media post, the court can assume that is reason enough for it to be removed.
The bill would apply to posts that “call for an act of violence or terrorism.”
It would only go as far as to demand that posts are removed from visibility in Israel, as is Facebook’s existing policy on such cases.
The controversial issue with the bill is, as it turns out, not the government’s ability to apply it to multinational tech giants like Google and Facebook, but questions over its effectiveness in truly combating terrorism and its potential misuse to hurt freedom of speech.
“The ‘Facebook bill’ is not an effective tool in combating online incitement. It will only block content perceived as inciteful to Israeli eyes, while the rest of the world will still be exposed to it. Additionally, the bill in its current form would enable the removal of legitimate content as it includes vague and general language – such as ‘danger to the public or nation’ – that can be interpreted very broadly,” stated a representative of the Israel Internet Association.
Snukal agreed that this is an concern among the companies.
“An area of concern from the industry’s side is where does a court draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate content. Especially in a democratic society like Israel, where does a post stop being legal and becomes illegal?” Snukal told the Post
Facebook commented that it hopes to continue a constructive dialogue with the Israeli government and other stakeholders.
“We hope that this will include careful consideration of the implications of this bill for Israeli democracy, freedom of speech, the open Internet and the dynamism of the Israeli Internet sector,” stated the Facebook representative.