An Apple Inc. iPhone 6 smartphone is held as a laptop screen shows the Twitter Inc. logo in this arranged photograph taken in London, U.K. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Israel Warns Twitter of Legal Steps Over Terrorism; Shares Fall

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(Bloomberg) -- Israel’s justice minister warned Tuesday that the government is considering taking “legal action” against Twitter Inc. for ignoring repeated requests to remove online content that was inciting or supportive of terrorism. The shares tumbled the most in eight months.

Ayelet Shaked accused the American social media firm at a Jerusalem conference of failing to contribute to the country’s fight against online incitement, according to an emailed statement Tuesday from her office.

“Terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah have moved to Twitter instead of Facebook,” Shaked said. “Through Twitter, the terrorist organizations promote terror and incite to violence, including public activity that they carry out without fear.”

The ministry didn’t have immediate comment when asked for more details about Shaked’s remarks.

The Israeli government has ramped up efforts to mitigate the effect of new technologies on its longstanding conflict with the Palestinians. Social media were used to stoke a wave of stabbing attacks inside Israel in late 2014, politicians said. Since then, the government has tried to pass the so-called “Facebook Law,” giving Israel the tools to have content “liable to lead to murder and terror” removed immediately, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in December 2016.

The Israeli government submitted 12,351 requests to take down posts in 2017, nearly six times more than the previous year.

While it wasn’t clear what steps Israel is contemplating against Twitter, “such action, if taken, would clearly be unusual,” said Eran Peleg, Clarity Capital KCPS Ltd.’s chief investment officer. The chances are low Israel would follow through, he said, but added, “the current government is nationalistic, and perhaps similar to the Trump administration in the U.S., is increasingly taking actions that would be seen as unconventional or extreme by historic standards.”

At one point Tuesday Twitter shares were were down nearly 11 percent, the most in eight months, part of a broad selloff of social media stocks. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is probing whether Facebook Inc. violated terms of a 2011 consent decree over its handing of user data. That follows the revelation that a firm mined information on 50 million Facebook accounts to help Donald Trump’s campaign for U.S. president. Facebook shares fell as much as 6.2 percent Tuesday, after dropping 6.8 percent on Monday.

“This would be an overreaction in a different time, but with the hyper-sensitivity in the market right now, any news is bad news,” said James Cakmak, analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co. “It’s relevant in underscoring the risk that governments are willing to act.”

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