Facebook Allowing Israeli Security Forces To Shape The News Palestineans See

from the sporadic-pushback-coupled-with-routine-acquiescence dept

Facebook continues to increase its stranglehold on news delivery, reducing pipelines of info to a nonsensically-sorted stream for its billions of users. Despite the responsibility it bears to its users to keep this pipeline free of interference, Facebook is ingratiating itself with local governments by acting as a censor on their behalf.

While Facebook has fought back against government overreach in the United States, it seems less willing to do so in other countries. The reporting tools it provides to users are abused by governments to stifle critics and control narratives. And that’s on top of the direct line it opens to certain governments, which are used to expedite censorship. That’s what’s happening in Israel, as Glenn Greenwald reports:

[I]sraeli officials have been publicly boasting about how obedient Facebook is when it comes to Israeli censorship orders:

Shortly after news broke earlier this month of the agreement between the Israeli government and Facebook, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Tel Aviv had submitted 158 requests to the social media giant over the previous four months asking it to remove content it deemed “incitement.” She said Facebook had granted 95 percent of the requests.

She’s right. The submission to Israeli dictates is hard to overstate: As the New York Times put it in December of last year, “Israeli security agencies monitor Facebook and send the company posts they consider incitement. Facebook has responded by removing most of them.

This is especially troubling given the context of the Palestinian-Israeli relationship. By favoring Israel’s view of “incitement,” Facebook is censoring news streams read by Palestinians, giving them a government-approved view of current events. While Facebook is apparently reluctant to take down pro-Israeli calls for violence, it’s been moving quickly to delete almost everything Israeli security forces deem “incitement.” The info Palestinians see — filtered through Facebook — provides a mostly one-sided depiction of ongoing unrest.

What makes this censorship particularly consequential is that “96 percent of Palestinians said their primary use of Facebook was for following news.” That means that Israeli officials have virtually unfettered control over a key communications forum of Palestinians.

This isn’t just a “war-torn Middle East” problem. It’s everyone’s problem. As Greenwald points out, the company — which was willing to fight for the rights of US citizens — seems far less willing to do so when the government’s target is a foreigner.

Facebook now seems to be explicitly admitting that it also intends to follow the censorship orders of the U.S. government. Earlier this week, the company deleted the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Ramzan Kadyrov, the repressive, brutal, and authoritarian leader of the Chechen Republic, who had a combined 4 million followers on those accounts. To put it mildly, Kadyrov — who is given free rein to rule the province in exchange for ultimate loyalty to Moscow — is the opposite of a sympathetic figure: He has been credibly accused of a wide range of horrific human rights violations, from the imprisonment and torture of LGBTs to the kidnapping and killing of dissidents.

But none of that dilutes how disturbing and dangerous Facebook’s rationale for its deletion of his accounts is. A Facebook spokesperson told the New York Times that the company deleted these accounts not because Kadyrov is a mass murderer and tyrant, but that “Mr. Kadyrov’s accounts were deactivated because he had just been added to a United States sanctions list and that the company was legally obligated to act.”

That’s all it takes: being placed on a list by a government. It’s not that Facebook should become a platform for evil people to spread their message, but that it should take more than a government saying it doesn’t like someone for Facebook to start deleting accounts. On top of that, Facebook is handling this in classic Facebook moderation mode:

Others who are on the same sanctions list, such as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, remain active on both Facebook and Instagram.

Sanctions list members should be punished by governments, not private companies. If the US government wants to claim an Instagram account equates to a sanction violation, it’s welcome to make that argument in court. The problem with Facebook is its actions are consistently inconsistent. It points to a sanction list it’s not even following. It battles overbroad warrants in court, fighting back against baseless intrusions by the government, but grants the government enough credibility to disappear anyone nominated for sanctions by the administration,

Around the world, it continues to treat some governments as more equal than others, and it stills seems to prefer access to users to protecting users, especially in countries where censorious actions are the norm. Facebook wants to be all things to all people, but mainly it just wants all people. Sacrificing a few ethical standards is the most expedient choice. While Facebook is welcome to inconsistently apply its moderation standards on its own, it’s extremely troubling it’s willing to do the same on behalf of world governments. While both may look like censorship, only the latter actually is. And in the long run, it will be the latter that does the most permanent damage.

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Comments on “Facebook Allowing Israeli Security Forces To Shape The News Palestineans See”

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59 Comments
Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Minor correction...

This article says: “…said Tel Aviv had submitted 158 requests”.

The original article cited says: “… said that Israel submitted 158 requests…”

It’s ok to replace “Israel” with its seat of government (Jerusalem) much as we would Ankara for Turkey, Washington for the US, etc., but Tel Aviv is not Israel’s capital.

E

Bill Poser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Minor correction...

No, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The Knesset, the Supreme Court, the President’s office, and the various Ministries are all in Jerusalem. When the representatives of a country whose embassy is in Tel Aviv want to meet with the Israel government, they have to go to Jerusalem. The location of a country’s capital is not up to other countries. What you mean is that many other countries are opposed to Jerusalem being the capital of Israel.

Furthermore, the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was not due to Trump. Congress recognized Jerusalem as the capital in 1995 by a large, bipartisan margin. Trump merely reiterated the existing policy of the United States and went ahead with the long delayed decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

Bill Poser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Trump merely reiterated the existing policy of the United States ...

The Palestinians are not interested in peace. They’ve turned down multiple offers of a state and have repeatedly stated that their real purpose is the destruction of Israel. They pointlessly demand Jerusalem as their capital. They haven’t satisfied their obligations under the Oslo Accords; why expect them to live up to a peace treaty? The peace process is a farce – it has produce nothing other than the release of terrorists. It makes sense to have a neutral broker when there are two sides to a dispute and both would like to resolve it. There is no point when one side does not want to resolve the dispute and has no case.

Bill Poser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 They've turned down multiple offers of a state ...

Judea and Samaria are not, as a matter of law or ethics, exclusive Arab territory. Indeed, the League of Nations Mandate, the Balfour Declaration, the agreement with King Faisal, and the UN partition resolution all anticipated that Jews would live in Judea and Samaria. The current proposal for apartheid, with only Arabs in the “Palestinian state”, has no basis in law. Nor are the settlements illegal. But, to answer your question, the UN partition plan, which Israel accepted but the Arabs rejected, gave the Arabs more than they had after the 1949 Armistice and internationalized Jerusalem. Subsequent Israeli offers have been for almost all of Judea and Samaria, with small swaps of territory, and in one case even included East Jerusalem.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Re:9 The Charter also says that the UN lacks jurisdiction over internal matters.

Fine. So Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is an “internal matter”? They were never going to have their own state? All their territory is always going to be part of Israel?

So much for Israel being “interested in peace” …

Bill Poser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:10 The Charter also says that the UN lacks jurisdiction over internal matters.

The internal matter is the location of Israel’s capital in Jerusalem. Whether or not a separate Palestinian state is created has nothing to do with whether Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Your inferences are therefore unfounded.

In any case, Israel is not the barrier to the creation of a second Palestinian Arab state. (Jordan is of course the first as it encompasses 2/3 of Palestine and the majority of its population is Palestinian.) The Arabs rejected the creation of a Palestinian state in 1948. They could easily have created one prior to 1967 when Gaza, Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem were under their control. They have been offered a state several times since 1967, but have always rejected it. Their own policy statements indicate that what they actually want is the destruction of Israel. They are opposed to the two-state solution.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Re:11 The internal matter is the location of Israel's capital in Jerusalem.

So not the ongoing stealing of Palestinian land for the creation of the illegal Jewish settlements, then? Which the Security Council is perfectly empowered to pass resolutions on? So Israel cannot have any valid objection to Resolution 2334? Or indeed other resolutions, like 252, 267, 271, 298 or 465?

Bill Poser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:12 The internal matter is the location of Israel's capital in Jerusalem.

The land that the settlements are built on is in almost all cases state land. It has not been stolen from anyone. If you refer to sovereignty, Judea and Samaria are not “Palestinian land”. Had the Arabs accepted the UN partition plan, they might have been, but they did not. No Palestinian state was ever created. Furthermore, neither the League of Nations mandate, which remains the governing law, nor the UN partition resolution, intended Jews to be unable to live in Judea and Samaria. Indeed, both explicitly anticipated Jews remaining there, just as Arabs remained in Israel. The claim that the settlements are illegal under the Geneva Conventions is false not only because Judea and Samaria are not the occupied territory of some state, which is the situation the conventions assume, but because what is illegal is the forced resettlement of a population, not voluntary settlement.

Ninja (profile) says:

Let us emphasize the problem:

“it’s willing to do the same on behalf of world governments”

That said, even when they don’t bow to governments, the absurd influence they have over the masses is concerning because what it is worth moderating may not be years ahead and we may be building roadblocks to new ideas and general society evolution. I’m not quite sure if there’s a solution for that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: And who sez "platforms" have a "First Amendment Right" to control ALL speech...

>> "the absurd influence they have over the masses is concerning because what it is worth moderating may not be years ahead and we may be building roadblocks to new ideas and general society evolution"

So you either disagree with The Masnick on that key point, or you’re somehow ignoring what he frequently asserts.


And 2nd time today, back to browser sessions being poisoned AFTER getting a comment in.

It’s as though a switch has been turned OFF from my view. I don’t believe it’s "coincidence": Techdirt is back to old tricks.

Going to re-start, do again… Nope, so A FIFTH TRY… Oh, right, can’t have "Masnick" in subject line…

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: And who sez "platforms" have a "First Amendment Right" to control ALL speech...

No, I agree with him, Facebook is and should remain free to moderate as they please the platform. It doesn’t mean there are problems with this as well given their size but I’m not so fast to advocate govt intervention like some people here.

Recognizing the problem doesn’t mean I agree with you.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Big deal

The origins of violence in the middle east is actually pretty simple when you get down to it: it’s a big desert. With the necessities of life scarce, intense competition for fundamental resources is inevitable. That’s at the root of why the whole region has been one big long cycle of violence for millennia, a constant truth that crosses racial, religious, and societal boundaries.

And now Israel is actually building a civilized, modern democracy there, defying all odds, and their neighbors see that they’ve built something good and want to take it, according to the old ways that the civilized world has moved beyond. Israel has every right to suppress them, and they’ve shown remarkable restraint thus far. But that doesn’t mean they need to sit around and let themselves be attacked. They’d be stupid not to take steps like this to keep their enemies uninformed, at the very least!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Big deal

People in the middle east are violent because they live in a desert … good to know – thanks for the insight.

Since the problem is so simple it should be simple to fix … I suppose said simple fix would be called genocide, slaughter, inhumane by others – but that is just because they do not understand how simple the problem is.

Anonymous Coward says:

I've told you this too many times to count

Mark Zuckerberg is a dangerous sociopath. His company reflects that, top to bottom. I can only hope that if the North Koreans do decide to a lob nuke at the US, that it will incinerate FB HQ and everyone who works there: it would be one of the best possible things to happen to the Internet.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

The First Amendment, US law, and FB

The First Amendment restricts what the government can do. Private entities (people like us) and companies (like FB) can do whatever they want provided their behavior is lawful. They can discriminate, but not against a protected class. They can build new offices however they like, but only to local codes and the ADA, etc.

Just as we support Microsoft’s battle to tell the US DoJ that documents stored in Ireland are not subject to US laws, it behooves us to note that FB’s actions in other countries are subject to the laws of THOSE countries, not those we’re used to in the US (and again, this has nothing to do with the First Amendment).

When FB censors things in China, we don’t seem to call the Chinese government criminals. They killed more of their own people in Tianenman Square than all the Gaza and West Bank deaths ever. When Iran shut down various apps so there’s *no* communication we don’t call them criminals yet they imprison more of their own people than Israel has imprisoned *convicted* mass-murderers.

Even our friends the Saudis, treating women like dirt and imprisoning their own royal kin until ransoms of 33% of one’s net worth are given to the royal coffers… and nobody says anything.

So I guess if you want to hate on the Israeli government, and FB is following the law of the land where they are operating, this is as good a forum to do it in as any. If you want to get away from Yet Another judge-from-afar discussion and focus on the topic — it is whether FB should follow local laws, and if not, what should they do?

E

Anonymous Coward says:

The author of this techdirt post has already shown anti-Israel bias in the title of this post by assuming that the content being restricted is “news”. (Title: “Facebook Allowing Israeli Security Forces To Shape The News Palestineans See”). That is making a substantive judgment as to the content that the Israelis are restricting (is it ‘news’ or ‘incitement’?). Reasonable minds can debate whether Israel should be doing what it is doing, but techdirt should not decide the substantive value of the content being ‘news’ or ‘incitement’ without actually reviewing said content.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s pretty much all the content, so no, not even close to all of it is incitement. They got super pissed off when a thirteen year old told them to get the fuck off her front lawn and the soldiers eventually did. I guess those few weren’t ready to do more than rough up humans of any age for no particular reason.

If they want to stop incitement, they should look at their own “policies” first.

Not that terrorists among the Arab population are defensible whatsoever, but the entire Arab population is treated as terrorists. Huh, where else does that crop up?

I will tell you straight up I have an anti-Isreal bias. It’s perfectly rational position. Like an anti-US bias, anti-NK bias, or an anti-Russia bias. They’ve all been rather consistently some of the biggest bastards on the planet. (Hardly a comprehensive list, that’s a given.) Liars tell the truth sometimes, but you don’t know when that is, so you look at them more skeptically than you look at someone with a pretty good record with the truth.

Facebook complies with demands to take down things that are not incitement of any kind, unless you want to count reporting on atrocities of the complaining party as “incitement”. They also leave up blatantly harassing, inciting, and threatening things. I don’t think any of them look good for any of it.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

When Facebook censors the news feeds of users based on orders from a government agency, the call as to whether the content is “news” or “incitement”, regardless of its substantive value, often falls within the purview of whatever government ordered that censorship. If a government wishes to censor news content that paints said government in an unfavorable light, the line between “news” and “incitement” tends to disappear. Any government that carries out such censorship, then, has decided to shape the news that its citizens are allowed to see. And it is not “anti-Israel” to say as much, especially when non-Israeli governments have put their own censorship plans on the books.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Mark Zuckerberg seems to be a bit mixed up in this respect.

For example he was caught on an open mike suggesting that facebook would help Angela Merkel by suppressing dissent for her policy of bringing in large numbers of migrants from mainly muslim countries.

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/sep/30/angela-merkel-caught-on-hot-mic-confronting-mark-z/

Also many will report that fb has been trigger happy in censoring anti-islamic content and quite relaxed about anti-semitic content. In fact the experiment – reported here.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-ngo-says-facebook-test-proves-anti-israel-bias/

would seem to flatly contradict the premise of the article.

Bill Poser (profile) says:

incitement

It would be interesting to see exactly what Israel has requested be taken down. What Israel usually calls “incitement” is not news but explicit calls for terrorism and/or rioting, such as those frequently issued by the Palestinian Authority, the various terrorist groups (Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad), and the preachers at Al-Aqsa mosque. Such calls for violence are not protected by the First Amendment in the United States, but requests to take them down as inappropriate are routinely rejected by Facebook in the United States. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority is required by the Oslo Accords to suppress “incitement”, an obligation which it frequently violates.

I don’t like censorship, but this article does not convince me that Israel is censoring news or legal political expression.

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