Meta, the company that operates Facebook, turned down a request by the Israeli government last month to block a Facebook page belonging to a group it says is "clearly linked to Hamas."
A Tel Aviv District Court issued an order blocking the group’s page just in April, but the U.S. company declined to comply. Justice Ministry sources said Meta justified the decision on the grounds that it found no basis for the claims made against the organization to whom the page belongs. The company said there was no legal provision that requires it to block the page.
Meta has declined to respond to this report.
Judge Benny Sagi issued the order April 15, on the eve of Passover, in response to an urgent request by the state to block the page. A wave of Palestinian terror attacks had begun a month earlier, and culminated in a deadly shooting in Tel Aviv the week before the holiday. Senior Justice Ministry sources told Haaretz that they wanted to take action against the page because the organization had been uploading inflammatory content amid the attacks.
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After Sagi issued the order, the State Prosecutor's Office asked Meta to implement it, but the company refused. Israel had sought to either have the page taken down, or at least have access to it blocked from within Israel.
While the company acted within its rights under the law, its decision was considered unusual, given its history of cooperation with the Israeli government. Justice Ministry sources noted that the number of posts removed from Facebook at the request of the State Prosecution has grown in the past year. In recent months, its cyber unit has exposed “thousands of inciting posts” on social networks.
Nevertheless, several media outlets have reported cases in which social media networks would not comply with the state regarding the removal of content that Israel claims incites violence. Yedioth Ahronoth reported last week that Meta and TikTok have refused to divulge their policies for handling these issues to the authorities. They cited Twitter and Telegram as being particularly uncooperative.
Israeli law does not currently require foreign social media companies that operate in Israel to remove inflammatory content. In December, the ministerial committee on legislation voted to advance a Knesset bill that would empower authorities to do so, but it is still waiting for the first of three readings in the parliament.
The proposed law would allow a district court to order that content be removed if the State Prosecutor or the police deem it as capable of harming personal, public or national security. Submitting a request for such an order would require the consent of the attorney general.
Some critics say that the proposed legislation is too broad, and that it may harm freedom of expression. After the ministerial committee approved it, Prof. Karine Nahon, the head of Reichman University’s Data, Government and Democracy program, told Haaretz that “the law in its current formulation is too expansive. It contains vague tests that do not examine the substantive risk to state security with enough certainty, while giving the state too much power to censor legitimate content.”