Israel Set to Approve ‘Facebook Law’ Against Web Incitement

(Bloomberg) -- Israel’s government could seek court orders to force Facebook Inc. and other social media sites to remove content considered incitement, under a bill heading for final approval amid concerns about free speech.

“Israel is fighting and will continue to fight terrorism, also on the Internet,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked Shaked said after a parliamentary committee sent the bill to the full plenum for a final vote, expected later this week.

Shaked and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan have been working on the bill since 2016. Requests from Israel to remove problematic content grew from 95 a month in January 2017 to 2,420 last December, when President Donald Trump announced his intention to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Facebook has agreed to nearly all the requests, a spokesman for Shaked said.

The bill will ensure the government can act quickly, based on recommendations from police and the attorney general, “to remove content liable to lead to acts of terror and murder,” Erdan said in a statement. In the past, Erdan has said Palestinians arrested after attacking Israelis have admitted to being influenced by content on Facebook, Twitter Inc., YouTube Inc. and other online platforms.

The bill would allow the government to ask courts for an order removing content within 48 hours. Facebook had no immediate comment on the legislation. Spokespeople for Twitter and Alphabet Inc.’s Google weren’t immediately available for comment.

Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, head of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Center for Democratic Values and Institutions, said it was problematic that the bill’s scope had been expanded to cover everything in the national penal code.

“The heart of the problem here is that you don’t have to look for the person, bring him in, or press criminal charges. You just remove the content in an administrative way,” she said. “I’m afraid other countries are looking at Israel -- at the frontier of fighting terror and at the same time Start-Up Nation -- for how to solve problems on social media. I don’t want this to be the example.”

No other country has provisions as broad as the proposed Israeli law, and none allows
the state to ask the courts to rule on an order to remove content without needing to present evidence, Shwartz Altshuler wrote in a report.

The European Commission last September called on social-media companies, including Facebook and Google, to develop a common set of tools to detect, block and remove terrorist propaganda and hate speech. Facebook, Microsoft Corp., Twitter and YouTube said in late 2016 they were creating a shared database to help enforce policies against online terrorist content.

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