Justice Minister: Terror Groups Have Switched to Twitter Because Facebook Cooperates With Israel

Justice Minister Shaked says this is the reason behind a bill that would allow Israel to request the removal of social media content in certain cases

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at the Israel Democracy Institute, March 11, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah “have switched to operating on Twitter instead of Facebook,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said at a meeting with a Facebook official on Monday.

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“Through Twitter, terrorist organizations promote terrorist activity and incite violence, including through public activity that they engage in without fear,” Shaked told Delphine Reyre, Facebook’s director of policy for southern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “The reason is the fruitful cooperation between Israel and Facebook, compared to the lack of cooperation by Twitter.”

Shaked said this is why the government has submitted a bill that would allow it to ask the courts to order the removal of social media content in certain circumstances. “We called it the ‘Facebook Law,’ but the truth is that it should have been called the ‘Twitter Law,’” she added.

Shaked and Reyre met in advance of the Conference on Hate Speech on the Internet, which will take place in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Shaked is running the conference, whose participants, in addition to Reyre, will include the justice ministers of Italy, Greece and Malta. The conference is under the auspices of the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, a joint project of the foreign and diaspora affairs ministries.

Shaked also commented on the recent terror attacks in Israel. “We see indications on social media of growing ferment that is liable to affect a wave of incitement around sensitive dates – Pesach, Nakba Day, Land Day, the March of the Million,” she said.

Twitter, Facebook and other social media giants like Google, which owns YouTube, have been under heavy pressure from governments worldwide in recent years, including those of Israel and the United States, to take action against incitement to terror.

The Facebook Law, which has so far passed the first of three required parliamentary votes, allows the government to ask the courts to order the removal of content that meets the definition of illegal material and poses a real danger to individuals or the state. But it also creates an option for securing an ex parte ruling to remove content in a fast-track process that doesn’t comply with standard rules of evidence. This provision has been harshly criticized, given its possible implications for freedom of expression.

Haaretz asked a Justice Ministry spokesman whether there is any data to support Shaked’s assertion that terrorist organizations are switching from Facebook to Twitter, especially given that Hamas and Hezbollah have both been active on Twitter for years already. He said the ministry does have such data, and that these organizations now conduct the bulk of their social media activity on Twitter.

Dr. Haim Wismontsky, who heads the state prosecution’s cyber department, discussed the issue of content removal during a Knesset committee hearing in December. In 2016, he said, the ministry sought the removal of 2,250 pieces of content – individual posts or entire pages – of which 91 percent related to incitement to terror, since that was the ministry’s focus. Seventy percent of this content actually was removed, he said, while 19 percent of the ministry’s requests were rejected, seven percent were partially rejected and two percent weren’t dealt with.

At the time, Shaked complained that Twitter, unlike Facebook, was uncooperative about such requests and would remove content only if served with a court order.

“Not everyone is Facebook and Google, which are big companies with skilled manpower and are prepared, both in Israel and abroad,” she said. “There are things Facebook will remove and Twitter won’t, and we’re still trying to breach the walls at WordPress."

“If a page is clearly identified as a Hamas page,” she continued, “Facebook will remove it, but Twitter will demand a court order; otherwise, it won’t deal with it. There may be cases in which we think something poses a danger but the provider thinks it doesn’t violate its terms of use, and then we’ll want a judicial recourse.”

At that December committee session – a joint panel of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and the Knesset Science and Technology Committee created to prepare the Facebook Law for its second and third parliamentary votes – some people criticized the bill.

“The impression we get is that 99 percent of the cases will deal with incitement to terror and violence, and the other cases are relatively rare,” said the joint panel’s legal advisor, Gur Bligh. “Our concern is that you’re spreading a wide net to catch a relatively small number of cases. For the majority, one could use the specific tests for incitement to violence and terror, and for the special cases, one could use a tool tailored to them. In this context, the standard of a real fear of ‘harming the public’s safety’ is too broad.”