Israel in top 20 countries whose governments censor online data - report

The report found that the Israeli government made more than 5,500 content removal requests to tech giants in roughly the last decade.

‘FACEBOOK, GOOGLE and Twitter remove some things, but usually society is not disturbed by defamation.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
‘FACEBOOK, GOOGLE and Twitter remove some things, but usually society is not disturbed by defamation.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel ranks No. 11 in the world when it comes to the government censoring online data, according to a report released earlier this month by Comparitech.

The report found that the Israeli government made more than 5,500 content removal requests to tech giants in roughly the last decade.
Comparitech provides information, tools and comparisons to help consumers – mostly in the United States and United Kingdom – to research and compare tech services. In addition, the company has produced more than 1,200 reviews and guides.
This latest study, in which Comparitech collated the number of content removal requests Google, Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft and Wikimedia received from courts and governments all over the world, found that Israel is in the top 10 specifically when it comes to making requests of Facebook to remove content. It ranks eight – between Germany (7) and Russia – based on requests put through to Facebook from July 2013 to December 2018.
The report comes only around one year since the country attempted to pass the “Facebook Bill,” which was originally intended to require all online media providers to remove terrorist content. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the last minute prevented its passage into law, finding that by its final reading, the bill had strayed from its original intention.
“The prime minister believes the current version of the bill could be interpreted too broadly and permit censoring of opinions and gravely harming freedom of expression in Israel,” a Likud spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post in July 2018, shortly after Netanyahu made his decision to halt the legislation.   
There was concern that in the bill’s almost-final format, police could ask a court to remove anything from the Internet without the person who put it online even being able to respond in court.
India ranks No. 1 by number of Facebook content removal requests. Whereas Israel had 4,054, India had 70,815 – 33% of the overall number of Facebook removal requests.  
Outside of Israel, which governments censor online content the most and which channels are targeted by each government?
Overall, India, Russia and Turkey rank highest when it comes to the number of content removal requests across all channels. India and Russia each account for around 20% of the overall number of requests – 390,764.
“Some governments avidly try to control online data, whether this is on social media, blogs or both,” the Comparitech study’s author, Paul Bischoff, wrote.  
When it comes to requests put through specifically to Google from July 2009 to July 2018, an unlikely country is in the top three: the US. Russia and Turkey fill the top two slots.
Bischoff explained that there are several reasons for removal requests from Google, but they mainly fall into three categories: national security (30%), defamation (18%) and regulated goods and services (13%).
Russia made more than 88% of the overall requests from Google for reasons of national security and more than 97% of the requests relating to regulated goods. In contrast, the US made nearly 24% of the requests relating to defamation.
The report showed that the largest spike in removal requests from Google came in 2016 and most new requests that year came from Russia.  
Israel is not listed in the top 20 countries by number of Twitter content removal requests. However, the US and the UK each rank in the middle, at No. 9 and 10, respectively. These countries are sandwiched between South Korea (No. 8) and Pakistan (No. 11).
Bischoff noted that “although India takes the top spot for the overall number of content removal requests, as we have seen, the majority of these come from Facebook. Therefore, while the Indian government is clearly censoring Facebook... other countries appear to be censoring in larger volumes across all platforms.
“These are Russia, Turkey and France – those in second, third and fourth place in our overall top 20,” he continued.
France, a Western country that ranks high (25/100) in the Freedom on the Net rankings and is thought of as “free,” is the biggest surprise. Why does the French government seem to be making so many content removal requests?
“We can see that national security is a huge priority,” the report explained. “We can see spikes in some content removal requests following the terrorist attacks in 2015.”
France made 37,695 requests to Facebook in July to December of that year, a 12,677% increase for the first half of the year.
The report also explained why countries such as China do not appear high on the list: because the country simply blocks entire sites and apps or even bans certain websites, rather than going through content providers and their in-house reporting mechanisms to censor content.