A team of experts working for the Israeli Ministry of Communications take into account new laws that would hold social media companies accountable for incentives posted by users on their platforms. While newspapers and TV networks have long been responsible for this content, it is a potentially dramatic development for social media giants.
The discussion takes place against a background of Human Rights Watch Report who claimed that Israel and Facebook had colluded to âsilenceâ Palestinian voices on human rights issues. It also immediately follows a shattering paradigm 60 minutes special which featured Facebook “whistleblower” Frances Haugen, who accused Facebook’s leadership of “prefers profits to safety. “
Indeed, it is not just about the Jewish state, for whatever course the Israeli commission sets out, it will have a significant impact on the entire Western world as the decision to change the global landscape of social media is taken.
Silencing Palestinian voices?
The Human Rights Watch report criticized Facebook’s deletion of âhundredsâ of messages from Palestinians, but did not provide an accurate overview of the content that was deleted.
For example, a post not only encouraged Palestinians to stab Jews to death but also offered specific instructions on how to do this, including anatomical charts identifying the most vulnerable body parts.
Another message encouraged people to brutally butcher the Jews, graphically depicting a bloody scene as an act of religious heroism.
A large number of similar posts were the source of a wave of anti-Jewish violence in 2015-2016, known during the âKnife Intifadaâ. Palestinians, usually armed only with a knife, along with social media know-how and motivation, murdered 38 Israelis (including 31 civilians) and 558 wounded.
Last May, a massive online incitement prompted Palestinians to organize violent riots in Israel. This was used by Hamas as a pretext to start a widespread conflict in which US-designated terrorist groups launched nearly 4,500 rockets at Israel, hundreds of which missed and, as a result, also killed. Gazans.
None of these critical details were picked up in the Human Rights Watch report.
What the media won’t tell you: the root cause of the riots in Jerusalem
What the law says?
Incitement has never been considered “free speech”, neither in Israel, nor in the United States, nor in any modern liberal democracy.
The American case Brandenburg v. Ohio sets out three criteria that a speech must meet in order to be legally qualified as âincitementâ.
- The speaker must advocate directly for a crime to be committed;
- The crime must constitute an “imminent” threat; and
- It must be “probable” that the crime is committed by someone.
In short, it is not enough to offend or disagree with an individual. It is not even enough to make vague threats. On the contrary, incitement is speech that has a high probability of causing someone to commit a crime almost immediately. This is a high legal standard and intentionally, as it is designed to protect freedom of expression while balancing the need to maintain public safety.
Incentive laws apply to newspapers, television and all manner of conventional media, which begs the question: why aren’t social media companies already being held accountable for what is written on their platforms?
The answer is because of a law known as Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act 1996. Adopted when widespread use of the Internet was still in its infancy, this law aimed to promote growth by releasing Internet service providers from any liability for content published on their sites by third parties.
In other words, your cable company, cell phone provider, and even your local cafe (with its free Wi-Fi) can’t be sued because of what their customers say or write online.
However, Section 230 was passed years before the advent of social media platforms, which offer the owner much more control and involvement in content creation than an infrastructure provider. Nevertheless, the courts applied article 230 to various websites even as they have become more and more interactive.
In one notorious case, a site called Backpage.com was protected from liability despite allowing its users to engage in sex trafficking. The case resulted in the passage of new laws to deal specifically with the problem of online sex trafficking, but left Article 230 largely untouched. The tendency to apply Section 230 widely has helped create our current reality: that is, a reality in which today’s social media titans enjoy the same protections as the early Internet service providers, although ‘They are much more engaged in user content compared to a cable or cell phone company.
Today there is important debate on whether Section 230 should be amended or even repealed at a time when social media companies are monetizing user-generated content.
In this context, the television show 60 Minutes aired a special last week featuring Facebook “whistleblower” Frances Haugen, who argued that Facebook “prefers profits to safety. âAccording to Haugen’s logic, if the incentive brings Facebook more traffic and therefore more profits, the company will generally tend to allow it, even if it leads to murder.
In a vacuum, this is a completely rational (albeit somewhat unpleasant) decision for a company that responds to markets and shareholders – which is precisely why countries have laws. It is the role of government to balance the incentives of capitalism with our social responsibility to live together in a reasonably safe environment.
Likewise, a profit-driven company will work diligently to prevent inducement if its executives and shareholders know that the company can be held financially (and possibly even criminally) responsible for the results.
Israel at the top of the world
We frequently see Israel taking action slightly ahead of the rest of the world. The small country pioneered much of the modern science behind counterterrorism; has developed a huge high-tech sector; and, more recently, executed a nationwide rollout of the coronavirus vaccine long before most, if not all, other states in the world.
In this way, Israel is sometimes a kind of “laboratory” that indicates what could happen next: the “peak to the future” of the rest of the globe. As a modern liberal democracy, with a diverse population and strong free speech laws, Israel is a model of progress that can be examined and emulated by other nations, including the United States.
The social media incitement, while affecting many countries, has had a disproportionately negative impact on Israel by directly causing injuries and deaths in recent years alone. Israel’s discussions on the accountability of social media companies will almost certainly have an impact on the US debate on Section 230 as well as similar debates in countries around the world.
If Israel correctly implements its legal changes and manages to save lives without hampering free speech or business growth, then it can be seen as the standard bearer for a safer and better world.
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