More Censorship Awaits Palestinians As Israel Prepares New Facebook Bill
Israeli authorities are preparing to pass a social media bill, known as the “Facebook Bill”, that would allow the government to remove content it believes constitutes “incitement” or “causes harm” on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
It would also allow authorities to block content on all websites, including news sites, grant the Israeli general attorney the power to use secret evidence in court to remove content, and prevent content creators from defending themselves and their work, according to Arab News.
The bill will effectively remove content if two conditions are met. The first is that the publication constitutes a criminal offense, and the second is that if the content were to remain online, it would pose a risk to personal safety, public safety, or national security, explains Nadim Nashif, founder and director of digital rights organization 7amleh.
This bill is seen by many analysts as a move that could escalate online censorship during heightened tensions with Palestinians because of the vague definition of “incitement to violence or terror”. This wording can be used to attack any post against the repressive policies of Israel, human rights violations, or violence by Israeli security forces.
Additionally, the bill is likely to “be used to silence activists and journalists reporting on Israeli human rights violations,” adds Nashif.
Until now, multiple scandals have surrounded Israel’s vague laws that use a diluted definition of incitement to violence as a way to cut short freedom of speech and criminalize Palestinian journalists and activists who report on the ground and post online.
For example, during last year’s Israeli war on Gaza, Facebook and Instagram removed hundreds of posts related to Palestine. Digital rights organization 7amleh documented more than 700 cases of Palestinian digital rights violations, of which 500 cases took place between May 6-19 alone.
At the same time, there were 1,090,000 comments relating to Palestine on social media, and 183,000 instances of hate speech against Palestinians, which were allowed to remain.
During those days, numerous posts from activists and ordinary people criticized the censorship imposed by Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In my investigation of “Palestinian political activism online: A case study of Instagram as a weapon of mobilization politics during the fourth Gaza war,” I found out that activists were aware of the pro-Israeli operation of the algorithms and the alliances of these platforms with Israel, so they dedicated several posts to denouncing the removal of publications and the persecution of activists. In addition, they criticized what they believed to be deliberate internet and electricity cuts in Gaza.
Numerous think tanks and other studies have confirmed the compliance between social media platforms such as Facebook and Israel. A big part of the complaints focuses on Facebook’s, Twitter’s, and Instagram’s protocols for removing content.
For example, Facebook describes Zionists as a “globally protected group,” meaning that content that criticizes them is almost automatically removed. Along the same lines, it censors all posts that support any organization that uses “violence to resist the occupation of an internationally recognized state,” which could refer to the struggle for a free Palestine against internationally recognized Israel.
The Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) has reported that Facebook encourages Israel’s efforts to block unwanted political content shared on its platform by “approving 90%of post removal requests from the Israeli government.”