Shay Piron
Shay Piron Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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An Israeli is seeking a court order that would bar Facebook from denying him access to its site or removing content posted on his Facebook page without giving him a chance to appeal the decision. The issue arose after Omri Weil was denied access to the online social network following complaints about a Facebook page he created which publicized negative information about Education Minister Shay Piron.

In a lawsuit filed in the Jerusalem District Court last week, Weil claimed that Facebook’s blocking of his access to the network and its power to delete content from his anti-Piron page were destructive to Israeli democracy. Weil said he has been suspended by Facebook for a week due to allegedly offensive content posted on the Piron page. He is seeking access to the complaints that led to his suspension from the social network and will also seek monetary damages against the company. He has also filed suits against Facebook in the United States and Ireland.

Weil’s Facebook page has the stated purpose of collecting complaints from members of the public who say they have been harmed by Piron. Weil was identified as the person behind the page for the first time in the lawsuit. Facebook does not require creators of Facebook pages to disclose their identities publicly.

Weil’s lawsuit was filed by Yael Tothany, a lawyer who herself posted information on Facebook claiming that when Piron was the principal of the Yeshurun ulpana, a religious girls’ high school that Tothany attended, the girls were segregated on the basis of their ethnic background — presumably a reference to alleged segregation between Ashkenazi and Sephardi students.

Piron has said that he tried contacting Tothany, although she disputed this in a posting on Weil’s website. A supporter of the education minister added her own post, saying that Piron had confirmed to her that he had tried to contact Weil’s attorney. Weil posted a screenshot of the post on his anti-Piron Facebook page, to which he added his own response.

In his lawsuit, Weil characterizes Piron’s response as: “The response is evidence of the direct connection between the responder and Shay Piron, which in [Weil’s] opinion reinforces his claim that there are allegedly responders ‘on [Piron’s] behalf’ who are scuttling [Weil’s] efforts to get the allegedly real victims to speak about Piron’s actions [and] disclose what they are feeling.”

Facebook initially blocked Weil’s access to Facebook on March 20 for 24 hours, after he posted the screenshot and his response. Weil said Facebook management did not disclose who complained about the purported offensive content and did not give him an opportunity to appeal the decision. On March 23, he was denied access to Facebook again, this time for three days, after posting content that purportedly violated Facebook’s terms of use. The post contained a list of 12th grade students at the ulpana, in an attempt to show that the school discriminated against students based on their background. After the three days was up, Weil says, he was barred from Facebook for another three days for violating Facebook policy.

“This therefore involved six days during which he was totally cut off from friends and family to which he was linked [on Facebook] and lack of access to personal humor pages and business-related pages that he maintains which are in no way connected to Shay Piron and his exploits,” Weil’s lawsuit states. “Temporarily or permanently blocking [Weil] entails [the prospect of] causing him huge damage and harm to his reputation.”

Another more basic issue raised in Weil’s suit is Facebook’s role as a forum for public discourse and the potential infringement of freedom of expression involved in blocking users’ access. Weil’s lawsuit alleges that Facebook’s policy would enable it to intervene in the domestic politics of individual countries, to block access to the social network by political figures or their opponents and to do damage to Israeli democracy. Weil’s lawyer also raises the specter that Facebook would have the power to influence public discourse in Israel based on its own extraneous consideration or whims.

Facebook’s declined to provide a response.