This page is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)

January 5, 2016

An experiment designed and carried out by the Israel Law Center (Shurat HaDin) purports to show that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s Facebook arena, the odds are stacked against Israel.

In a simple test, the organization tracked down two existing Facebook pages – one pro-Israeli, and one pro-Palestinian – and uploaded content to each that was rife with incitement to violence and hate.

“Guess which page Facebook removed for violating rules against incitement,” said attorney Nitzana Darshan-Leitner, who heads the organization.

“With over 30 Israelis killed in terror attacks since October – with many of the murderers receiving encouragement and motivation from social media – it is shocking that Facebook would continue to ignore instances of incitement against Israelis, while quickly fulfilling its obligation to remove other instances of incitement when it sees fit to do so, as we showed in this experiment,” she said.

The organization, which specializes in fighting terror groups and their supporters in the legal arena – Iran owes its clients over a billion dollars in judgments issued by American courts for Tehran’s support of Hezbollah terrorism – is suing Facebook as well, for failing to prevent usage of its platform to promote terrorism.

Shurat HaDin has accused Facebook of neglecting complaints of incitement against Israelis and Jews, as well as passively encouraging terror attacks by failing to remove posts that call for violence.

In one example from mid-October, Shurat HaDin said that a 19-year-old Palestinian, “Mohammed Halabi, published a post on his Facebook page stating that the Third Intifada had erupted and that the current war is for the al-Aqsa Mosque. One day later, Halabi stabbed and murdered Aharon Benita z”l and Rabbi Nehemia Lavi z”l.”

“There are many examples. In general, Facebook is being flooded with many messages in support of terrorists,” and the platform has consistently ignored requests to intervene and prevent posting of such messages, the organization claimed.

In the test conducted by Shurat HaDin at the end of December, the group tracked down two pages with similar names and similar but opposite purposes, one called “Stop Israelis” and the other, “Stop Palestinians.” The group uploaded relevant, equally ugly and hateful messages to both groups, in which the language, images, and messages were equally weighted.

Thus, the group uploaded to the pro-Palestinian group messages that included text like “the Zionist bite palestine part after part and the world is silence. we’ll stop them any we can,” retaining the punctuation and style common on many of these posts. On the pro-Israel page, the group uploaded messages that said things like “Greater land israel should return soon from the hands of the muslim enemy back to jewish sovereignty!We’ll do it any we can.”

Ramping things up, the test continued with unmasked hate and calls for violence. Messages in this phase included “Revenge against the Jewish enemy that threatens Al Aqsa! Death to all the Jews!,” and “Revenge against the arab enemy. Death to all the Arabs,” with images – some by now famous, others new – to illustrate the points.

After several days of this, Shurat HaDin filed complaints against both pages for incitement and hatred, using Facebook’s standard complaint procedure. The result: Stop Palestinians was pulled because, as Facebook told the group in response to the complaint, it “contains credible threat of violence and it violates our Community Standards.” The Stop Israelis page, on the other hand, did not violate anything, and was not taken down, said Darshan-Leitner.

As a result, Darshan-Leitner said, “We demand that Facebook begin to proactively prevent postings that encourage Palestinian terrorism on its pages. They can use their advanced technology to search for and remove calls for Israeli murders, and remove images and videos that encourage terror against Jews. Our investigation clearly proves that when it comes to incitement against Palestinians, Facebook is clearly capable of this – and we demand that Facebook act the same way on incitement against Israelis.”

In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said that the company “does not tolerate hate speech, including against people on the basis of their nationality. We review all reports and take down such content. Both these pages have now been removed from Facebook.”