As of Thursday evening, some 10,000 Israelis had signed a petition, launched by Shurat HaDin-The Israel Law Center, indicating their desire to join a class-action suit against Facebook for acting as an accomplice to terror.
Shurat HaDin, an NGO whose mission is combating terrorism through “lawfare,” took up the case, following multiple complaints lodged by concerned users about the proliferation of pages in Arabic that call for the killing of Jews. Since Facebook’s response has been blasé at best, with claims that content is monitored for adherence to certain “community standards,” and utterly ineffectual, since pages such as “Stab Israelis” have not been removed, Israel Law Center founder Nitsana Darshan-Leitner decided to take the social media giant to court.
Darshan-Leitner, listed this year by both Forbes and Israeli financial newspaper Globes as among Israel’s 50 most influential women, told The Algemeiner on Thursday evening that though freedom of expression is a democratic ideal, both morally and legally, “It cannot be without limits.”
Darshan-Leitner said that her organization had been thinking about how to confront the current wave of “knife terror” that has become a fad and a frenzy among young Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs, whose hearts and minds have been brainwashed with slogans about Israeli “desecration” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem.
“Usually, when considering how best to tackle terrorism, we go after the money behind it,” said Leitner, who is headed for the United States, where next week she will be bringing the lawsuit against Facebook before a San Francisco judge.
“But in this case, there is no real money trail, other than the funds spent by groups like the Islamic Movement in Israel, which pays women lots of cash to harass non-Muslims on the Temple Mount,” she explained, referring to the recently-banned Muslim women’s group, Murabitat, which was organized to keep Jews from praying on the Jordanian-Israeli administered Temple Mount.
No, said Darshan-Leitner, “Something else is causing these young people to get up, grab knives and actually stab Israelis. And that ‘something’ is incitement.”
“This is nothing new in the Palestinian Authority or in Gaza,” she said. “But, typically, it has been disseminated through sermons in mosques, teachings in schools, speeches in public squares and on TV. Today, it is being spread like wildfire through social media networks.”
Neither is antisemitic rhetoric novel, according to Darshan-Leitner, even on social media. “What we are seeing today is a phenomenon with a different feel to it – with kids not only sharing their intention to become martyrs for Allah, and encouraging one another to do the same, but immediately acting on it.”
It is this particular, palpable danger that has been terrorizing the country for weeks that must now be stopped, she said. “We thought that fighting it requires minimizing the incitement. And this is why we are trying to get an injunction against Facebook to shut down those kind of pages and monitor the site to prevent other ones from appearing.”
But, given the massive traffic on Facebook, this might be a tall order, as Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon hinted last Thursday, when telling The Algemeiner about his office’s attempts to get Facebook and Google, which owns YouTube, to remove incendiary material and prevent similar content from appearing in the future.
“It is not certain that removing such clips from social media will have an effect” on the current security situation in Israel, or on the Palestinian populace, he said. “Remember, social media sites cannot do anything of this sort in advance. They react to what is reported by other users and then flagged. So, for every film they remove, another one crops up.”
Still, he was cautiously optimistic about a meeting he said was going to take place in Israel this week with a visiting Facebook bigwig to discuss this very issue.
When this discussion of the Foreign Ministry measure was put to Darshan-Leitner, she emitted a slightly sardonic laugh. “All you have to do is open Facebook right now,” she said. “And you will be able to see that nothing whatsoever has been done.”
Furthermore, she added, “It is ridiculous to say that Facebook cannot monitor these things. Notice its millions of algorithms that know exactly what you like to wear and eat, who your friends are, what music you’re interested in, etc. How else do ads aimed specifically at you mysteriously appear in your feed and on the side of the page? If it’s got algorithms for consumer purposes, it can have algorithms for other purposes, as well.”
Whether the judge will rule in her favor, however, is a different question.
“That all depends on the weight the court puts on danger to human life versus the danger to freedom of speech,” she said, urging as many people as possible to join Shurat HaDin’s class-action suit.