Under Fire for Abetting 'Palestinian Incitement,' Facebook Execs to Meet Israeli Officials

Delegation in Israel this week amid controversy over social media's role in abetting violence.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Bloomberg

A delegation of Facebook executives visiting Israel this week will be meeting with government officials amid controversy over the role of the company as a conduit for incitement to violence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarded the meeting as important enough to mention it in his opening remarks to the cabinet on Sunday. “The goal here is to improve cooperation against incitement – the incitement to terror and murder – on the social network,” the Prime Minister’s Website quoted him as saying.

Facebook has come under fire by Israeli politicians and officials for failing to block Palestinians from posting messages encouraging violence. The concern has grown in the last year amid a spate of attacks by young people unaffiliated with organizations but reportedly inspired by social media.

In July, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan accused Facebook and its chairman and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg of partial responsibility for terrorist attacks, including the murder of 13-year old Hallel Yaffa Ariel in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba the month before.

“Facebook has turned into a monster. The younger generation in the Palestinian Authority runs its entire discourse of incitement and lies and finally goes out to commit murderous acts on Facebook’s platform,” he told Channel 2 television.

“On matters like pedophilia, there is cooperation, but in many other investigations, it is much more difficult,” said Liat Killner, legal adviser to the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 investigations unit.

Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked have said they will advance legislation to remove offensive content from the social networks. The ministers said the law would require blocking terror-related and other banned posts that immediately endanger the state, the public or an individual.

FB: 'No place for incitement'

For its part, Facebook says it has rules for what constitutes acceptable content and meets regularly with policy makers in and out of government on these issues. “There is no place for content encouraging violence, direct threats, terror or hatred on our platform,” the company says.

The Facebook delegation includes Joel Kaplan, vice president of global public policy and a former deputy chief of staff for policy at the White House, and Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of product policy, whose responsibility includes issues relating to terrorism.

Facebook recently created a new position of head of policy for Israel and appointed Jordana Cutler, a former chief of staff in the Israel Embassy in Washington, to the post.

In spite of these measures, Netanyahu expressed some doubt on Sunday about whether officials could reach an acceptable understanding with the company.

“The internet has brought considerable blessing to humanity, but folded within it – to our regret – is also a curse, because terrorists and inciters are using the internet to attack humanity. We are determined to fight these phenomena and, therefore, I welcome the cooperation – or at least the desire for cooperation – that Facebook is showing, and we hope that these will lead to better results.