Report: Netanyahu Seeks to Pull Back on ‘Facebook Law’

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (Reuters/Leah Millis)

A law that would allow the government to demand that social media sites remove posts that encourage terrorism – the so-called “Facebook law” – is set to be voted upon in the Knesset on its second and third reading this week, but in a last-minute move, Hadashot News reported, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is seeking to prevent the law’s passage. The report said that Netanyahu’s aides contacted the authors of the bill, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and asked them to remove the law from the Knesset’s roster.

The report quoted officials close to the prime minister as saying that the law, which started out as a worthy endeavor, had mushroomed into a “dictatorial” measure that could be used to remove almost any communication that was determined to be crime-related, thus harming freedom of expression. The report said that coalition MKs who have been contacted about the matter are “furious” about the last-minute change.

The law says that the state can ask a court to issue an order to social media companies demanding that content determined to be “dangerous” be removed; it applies to Twitter, Facebook, Google and other companies that allow the public posting of social media messages. The criteria for removal is a post that advocates or promotes a criminal act that could harm the security of the state or of an individual, or would “grievously harm” Israel’s economy or essential infrastructure. The court could make its decision even based on evidence that would not normally hold up in a court case, such as the recommendation of police, etc.

Shaked, speaking on behalf of the law, said that “Israel has and will continue to fight online terrorism. In the past year Facebook has responded to most of our requests to remove posts that promote incitement. Unfortunately, not all social media companies are as cooperative. Israel is one of the pioneers of this kind of legislation, and we are working with other countries on this matter.”

Last month, social networks Facebook and Twitter shut down the accounts of Lebanese terror group Hezbollah. According to officials in the Public Security Ministry, Erdan had threatened Twitter that if it did not shut down the accounts of terror groups, it would be subject to a criminal investigation in Israel for supporting terror. Hezbollah condemned the move, saying that it had been done “without warning,” and “by instruction of the administration of Donald Trump.” In a statement, Erdan said that he applauded the decision, and hoped that “Facebook and Twitter will continue to follow through on this decision, which should have been carried out a long time ago. Allowing terror groups to spread their messages on these platforms is nothing more than assisting terror groups. We look forward to the companies applying this decision to Hamas as well.”