Facebook challenged

Souce: Facebook challenged, J-Wire, 7 January 2016

An experiment run by an Israeli law centre Shurat HaDin has shown that Facebook was quick to respond to complaints about anti-Palestinian posts but slow to act on hate posts aimed at Israel.

The video of the experiment conduct by Shurat Hadin on Facebook has gone viral. The video shows how two fake hate pages were created, one against Israelis and the other against Palestinians, and similar content inciting violence was uploaded to each. When they were reported the page “Stop Palestinians” was immediately closed, while reports about the page “Stop Israelis” were rejected.

Shurat Hadin represents a group of 20,000 Israeli plaintiffs who filed a civil law suit against Facebook in New York in October 2015 alleging the social media platform disregards incitement and calls to murder Jews which are posted by Palestinians. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction that would require Facebook to block incitement against Jews in Israel, but does not seek any damages. The statement of claim contends that, “Facebook’s refusal to remove the flood of extremist videos, statements and cartoons being posted by Palestinians is encouraging imminent violence and fanning the flames of the terrorist attacks that have overwhelmed Israel in the past month.”

The Shurat Hadin video, called the “The Big Facebook Experiment”, records their actions creating the pages “Stop Palestinians” and “Stop Israelis” on December 28th 2015. On the 29th of December they began uploading very similar posts inciting hate against each group, then inciting violence with one page making posts calling for “Death to all the Jews” and the other making posts saying “Death to all the Arabs”. After this both pages were reported simultaneously. The page inciting violence against Palestinians was closed, the reports against the one inciting violence against Israelis were rejected.

Australia’s Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) contacted Facebook about the pages and was initially notified that Facebook was investigating. This was followed a few hours later by a statement from Facebook saying that, “Facebook 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.”

OHPI’s CEO, Dr Andre Oboler, told J-Wire that “more needs to be done by social media companies to curb incitement to violence”. While pleased both pages had ultimately been closed within a week of their use to promote incitement, Dr Oboler rejected claims that the experiment demonstrated a systemic bias at Facebook against either Israel or Jews.

“What was unusual here was the speed with which the incitement of violence against Palestinians was removed. The norm, whether it is antisemitism, homophobia, misogyny or anti-Muslim content, is for the content to at first be rejected and only later on review for it to be potentially removed. This is what occurred with the page promoting incitement against Israelis in the experiment, and it is frankly the response we would expect to see. This is not a bias which is worse than other types of hate, rather, it is exactly what would normally happen, including the final removal after content starts gaining media attention”, Dr Oboler explained.

Dr Oboler told J-Wire that two examples was simply not a big enough sample to demonstrate systemic bias. Research conducted by OHPI in 2015 using larger samples did not, he explained, support the accusation of an anti-Jewish bias when it came to cases of incitement to violence. Dr Oboler warned that even without an issue of bias, Facebook could still be liable for not doing enough to counter online antisemitism and other forms of online hate.

Accusations of bias by Facebook against Jews and Israel are being spread as the video goes viral. The Times of Israel carries a headline, “Israeli NGO says Facebook test proves anti-Israel bias”, Arutz Sheva reports “Israeli NGO reveals: Facebook discriminates against Israelis”, and Jerusalem Posts asks “When it comes to incitement, is Facebook biased against Israel?” The video is being re-uploaded and shared by Jewish groups around the world.