Israeli authorities accuse Facebook of allowing Hamas to publish incitement
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Meta is easing its policy towards Hamas and has been allowing the group to publish what the Justice Ministry has dubbed as inflammatory content on Facebook, including “content that supported firing rockets into Israel,” ministry sources claim.
The sources in the Justice Ministry, who were speaking on the condition of anonymity, claim that Facebook had treated Hamas as a terrorist organization and would immediately remove official publications of the group in the past, even removing posts from private accounts expressing support for it.
But since the last round of fighting in the Gaza Strip, in May 2021, they say, Hamas has received much softer treatment from Facebook.
In recent weeks, officials from the ministry and from the defense establishment have met with Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar in an effort to find new ways to combat incitement to terrorism on Facebook and other sites. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, denies the allegations.
“Today, when Israel is in a confrontation with Hamas, from Facebook’s perspective, it’s almost the same as a confrontation between two countries, and Facebook doesn’t delete content that supports either one of the sides to the conflict. That is very dramatic and problematic in regard to Israel,” one source in the Justice Ministry said.
One of the sources said the shift in Facebook’s policy was reflected in Meta’s refusal to “remove content that supported firing rockets into Israel” during the round of fighting, adding that in informal discussions company representatives admitted to the change in policy.
In a written response to Haaretz, Meta said that it reviews Facebook user accounts in accordance with company policy and its commitment to upholding U.S. law, and especially with regard to the designation of Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization.
According to Israeli officials, one example of Facebook’s more permissive treatment of Hamas is Meta’s refusal to block the Facebook page of a group described as clearly linked to Hamas. As reported by Haaretz last month, just prior to the Passover holiday in April, an Israeli district court issued an order blocking the group’s website, but the company decided not to apply the order to its Facebook page.
In explaining its decision, Facebook said it had found no basis for the allegations against the organization and noted that there is no law requiring it to block the Facebook page, Justice Ministry sources said. The company refused to provide a response on the issue.
Another indication of a change in Facebook’s approach was the decision by its oversight board to permit an Egyptian Facebook user with more than 15,000 followers to publish a post supporting Hamas.
The post included a link to an Al Jazeera report in which two members of Hamas’ military wing are shown along with the caption, “The leadership of the resistance is giving the occupation until 6 P.M. to withdraw its troops from the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.”
Facebook had initially removed the content, but the user appealed to Facebook’s oversight board, which concluded that it had been removed by mistake. The board ruled that the post had not violated Facebook’s rules, saying that it didn’t contain praise, support or figures from Hamas’ military wing.
In a number of cases, Israel has been unsuccessful in getting Facebook to remove posts inciting attacks against Israel, ministry sources said. The West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are administered as part of Facebook’s Middle East region, overseen by its Dubai office, which ministry sources claim is “pro-Palestinian”.
“Wherever you go, you encounter the subject of 1967,” one senior Israeli official said in reference to the Green Line, Israel’s 1967 border before the Six-Day War and the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. “We don’t have the capacity to have inciting posts removed that are not within the territory of the Green Line.”
Ministry sources also said that at recent meetings, they sought to shift the dispute with Facebook to the diplomatic arena.
“We’re dealing here with a semi-diplomatic matter that can’t be resolved in the legal arena alone and needs to be discussed between the Israeli government and Meta,” one source said. “If we had thought that the U.S. administration had the power to influence Facebook’s content policy, then there would have been a basis for also involving the American administration, but that apparently won’t happen.”