Knesset Gives First Nod to So-called Facebook Bill That Would Allow Court to Censor Internet

If passed into law, legislation would permit court to order social networks to remove content that incites to violence from their sites.

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Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, one of the two sponsors of the so-called Facebook bill, on Dec. 12, 2016.
Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, one of the two sponsors of the so-called Facebook bill, on Dec. 12, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

A bill that would give the courts power to block internet content that incites violence received first support by Israeli lawmakers on Tuesday.

The so-called Facebook bill, proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, was approved Tuesday during a first reading in the Knesset plenum, by a majority of 36 to 2.

The draft legislation says that the Administrative Affairs Court will be allowed, at the request of the government, to issue an order instructing social networking companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove inflammatory content from their sites.

Inflammatory content is defined as presenting a real danger to an individual, the public or the state, and constituting a criminal offense.

The bill will now be brought back to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for preparation prior to a second and third reading by the Knesset.

Shaked and Erdan welcomed the results of the first vote. Said Shaked, “I’m happy to continue to promote a law of such great importance in the battle against incitement on the social networks, incitement whose results are destructive and dangerous."

Cooperation with these networks, she added, "will help to reduce the inflammatory material that is posted on a daily basis, and will convey a clear social message that we won’t be tolerant of calls for violence, even if they’re written on a keyboard and appear ‘only’ on screens. Because a single word can turn life into death.”

For his part, Erdan commented that, “Despite the fact that incitement leads to terror, Facebook and other content suppliers on the internet do not accede to police requests to remove content that incites [to violence], and sometimes it takes a long time until this content is removed. Therefore, the new law is necessary in order to give us the tools to act immediately to remove content that is liable to lead to acts of terror and murder.”

On Monday, the Knesset Science and Technology Committee held a discussion about the annual report of the Israel Internet Association, in which the executive director, attorney Yoram Hacohen, spoke about the problematic nature of the proposed legislation.

“Incitement to terror on the social networks is a real problem and solutions must be found – but we don’t think that these are legislative solutions," said Hacohen. "This proposal doesn’t apply only to incitement to terror on the social networks, but relates to a far broader issue. We’re afraid that it will lead to blatant and extensive intervention against the freedom of expression. We are concerned that internet legislation will distort the neutrality of and the manner of thinking on the internet.”

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