Israel has accused Facebook of not doing enough to curb online content that incites violence against the state, with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan describing the social network as a "monster" during a television interview on Saturday. Facebook defended its moderation policy in a statement to Reuters on Sunday, saying that it works closely with Israel to remove hateful or abusive content. The company did not directly address Erdan's comments.
Israel has seen a wave of street attacks carried out by Palestinians in recent months. Since October, 34 Israelis and two Americans have been killed in Palestinian street attacks, while Israeli forces have killed at least 201 Palestinians, according to Reuters. (Israel says that 137 of those killed were attackers.) The Israeli government says that much of the violence has been encouraged on Facebook, and has called on the site to more proactively police hateful content. A 19-year-old Palestinian who killed an Israeli girl last week praised terrorists on Facebook prior to the attack, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports, and expressed his desire to die as a martyr.
"it has simply become a monster."
In an interview on Israel's Channel 2 Saturday, Erdan accused Facebook of "sabotaging" police efforts to curb the violence by not cooperating in investigations in the West Bank, adding that the site has "a very high bar for removing inciteful content and posts."
"Facebook today, which brought an amazing, positive revolution to the world, sadly, we see this since the rise of Daesh and the wave of terror, it has simply become a monster," Erdan said, using an Arab term for ISIS. He also called on Israelis to "flood" Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg "in every possible place with the demand to monitor the platform he established and from which he earns billions."
In its statement to Reuters, Facebook encouraged users to report content that violates its community standards, so it can "can examine each case and take quick action."
"We work regularly with safety organizations and policymakers around the world, including Israel, to ensure that people know how to make safe use of Facebook," the company said. "There is no room for content that promotes violence, direct threats, terrorist or hate speeches on our platform."
In an interview with Israel's Army Radio, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called on social media companies to more proactively police content published on their platforms. The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently preparing legislation that would require social media sites to remove content that the state considers threatening.
"We want the companies not to approve and to themselves remove posts by terrorist groups and incitement to terrorism without us having to flag each individual post, in just the same manner, for example, that they today do not allow posts and pages with child pornography," Shaked said.
"Putting the onus on the companies to act as censors is wrong."
Facebook, Twitter, and other major tech companies have come under increased pressure to crack down on hate speech and terrorist propaganda, following attacks in Europe and the US. In May, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Microsoft agreed to an EU "code of conduct" that obliges the companies to review and remove hateful content within 24 hours, and to promote "independent counter-narratives" to propaganda. Last month, Reuters reported that major tech companies are exploring systems that would automatically identify and remove hateful content published online.
Governments have described such efforts as critical to combating ISIS and other terrorist groups, but civil liberties groups have expressed concerns over delegating so much power to private companies.
"Putting the onus on the companies to act as censors is wrong; corporations do not have users' best interests or right to free expression at heart, and lack the expertise to make good decisions about who is or isn't a terrorist," Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in an email to The Verge. "This becomes particularly problematic at Facebook's size; Facebook has more users than any country in the world has citizens."