Facebook and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are soon going to find themselves in court as codefendants in a lawsuit for disseminating false information.
Netanyahu and Facebook will have to explain why they allowed the spread of a false story on Netanyahu’s Facebook page that claimed – falsely and misleadingly – that billionaire George Soros was cooperating with the Iranian regime. The lawsuit was filed in Tel Aviv District Court by attorney Shachar Ben-Meir.
The lawsuit does not make a monetary claim, but is demanding a declarative order as well as an order forcing Facebook to show what steps it is taking to prevent the spread of the fake news that Netanyahu posted on his Facebook page.
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Netanyahu had uploaded to his Facebook account a story from Israel Hayom, which stated that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was “cooperating” with some of Soros’ foundations. The article included a quote from Zarif, to the effect that this activity had begun even before Zarif had assumed his post in 2013, and said that Zarif boasted of having succeeded in “maintaining the regular activity.”
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But both the article and the post turned out to be untrue. Ben-Meir’s argument is based on subsequent reports by Channel 10 News foreign affairs correspondent Nadav Eyal. In a series of tweets, Eyal presented the errors in the article and traced the path that the false information took – apparently originating from a bad translation whose source was Rotter, an Israeli forum site, from which it made its way to Israel Hayom and Netanyahu’s Facebook page. An examination by Eyal showed that the Iranian regime had never confirmed that it was working with Soros, contrary to what was published by Israel Hayom and Netanyahu.
According to Ben-Meir, Netanyahu disseminated “forged, false and absurd news” on Facebook by sharing the Israel Hayom article, which was, “a false article, false and cheap propaganda, which expresses in the deepest fashion contemptible incitement and propaganda, fitting dark regimes.”
Ben-Meir also wrote that “this article is the ‘invention’ of a false conspiracy theory, under which a man named George Soros collaborated with the totalitarian regime in Iran... The purpose of the false article was apparently to disgrace and humiliate that person, even as the writers of the article and its distributor on Facebook know full well that there is not a grain of truth in it and that it is all contemptible incitement."
“This is particularly problematic when the owner of the disseminating account is the person who serves as the prime minister of Israel,” Ben-Meir wrote. “It is indeed hard to believe that he is disseminating an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory created by the Iranian regime, but this is the reality.”
Although Ben-Meir had contacted Facebook more than a week ago demanding that it prevent the false post from being shared, the post was not removed and continued to accumulate views, shares and “likes.” By the time the suit was being prepared, the false post had gotten 2,000 “likes,” and had been shared 441 times. It had also gotten 546 comments. “Given that the disseminating account belongs to a public figure who serves as prime minister of Israel, the false news is being distributed to a huge number of readers,” Ben-Meir wrote.
Ben-Meir’s legal argument is that Facebook is violating its commitment – i.e., the agreement between it and its readers – to prevent the spread of fake news. Ben-Meir quotes the testimony Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave to the U.S. Senate in April, in which he said the company planned to change its approach and provide tools that would prevent the spread of false news.
Facebook’s community standards also state explicitly with regard to false news that while Facebook doesn’t remove false news because of the “fine line between false news and satire and opinion … [we] instead, significantly reduce its distribution by showing it lower in the News Feed.”
“Despite Facebook’s explicit commitments on this issue, it hasn’t done anything against the account of the disseminator and did not operate according to its commitments regarding limiting the exposure to false news,” Ben-Meir argues.
Neither Facebook nor Israel Hayom would respond to TheMarker’s query on the issue, while Netanyahu’s adviser, Jonathan Urich, said, “the article speaks for itself,” without addressing the fact that the article isn’t true.
Ben-Meir is demanding that the court issue a declaratory order stating that Netanyahu’s account did distribute false news, and that it therefore order Facebook to reduce exposure to the post significantly. Ben-Meir also wants Facebook to be ordered to report to the court on what it has done to significantly reduce exposure to the false post.