Israel successful in getting dangerous content removed from social media

The success rate of the Israeli government in getting social media sites to remove dangerous content has jumped from 50% in 2015 to 85% in 2017.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Ministry of Justice made thousands of requests to social media sites to take down “harmful” or “dangerous” posts over the past year, the head of the cyber unit at Israel’s State Attorney’s office, Haim Wismonsky, told a Knesset parliamentary committee Monday. Eighty-five percent of the time, the sites – mainly Twitter, YouTube and Facebook – have acquiesced, he said.

According to a report in Calcalist, this comes down to a huge number of take-downs. In 2016, the government asked for 2,250 posts or social media pages to be removed, and was answered positively 70% of the time. The past year’s total, representing an 85% increase, will not be available for another month, but “the amount of content multiplied several-fold,” said Wismonsky. “There was an enormous spike.”

Main concern: Incitement to terror

Content written by terrorist organizations and posts that incite to violence are the subject that the Ministry of Justice is most interested in removing from the public eye, he said.

Interestingly, some sites do not see it as an axiom that organizations recognized by Western society as terrorist entities should be blocked from airing their views to potentially millions of people. “A page explicitly associated with Hamas would be removed by Facebook, while Twitter would require a court order,” Wismonsky told the committee. “There are cases in which we think something poses a threat, but the company says its user agreement has not been violated. That’s when we’ll want legal backing.”

This is where the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee comes into the picture. They are discussing a proposal for the so-called “Facebook Law” that would empower an administrative court to order social media companies to remove content determined criminal in nature and a threat to an individual, to public safety or to national security. It would even apply to Google search results.

Justice minister takes action

Legislation on this subject has been discussed before. In 2016, after seeing that internet sites complied with only about 50% of the Israeli requests over the previous year, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked threatened to make companies open to prosecution if they host images or messages that encourage terrorism. Voluntary compliance then jumped, as it did again in 2017.

Critics of the proposed law are reportedly saying that it would give too much power to an administrative tribunal in determining what constitutes a crime. In addition, pro-Palestinian media outlets have complained that while their activists have been shut down on Facebook, Israelis who make hateful comments against Arabs on social media have been left uncensored, although pro-Israel activists have claimed the opposite.