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Washington — Facebook has taken a diametrically opposite approach. Critics of the social network have listed many instances in which the company, which recently went public, has quickly cooperated with American and foreign governments seeking to limit content or to obtain users’ information.
The company has also been attentive to complaints – if there are enough of them – from individual users concerned about offensive content. It was this type of citizen activism that recently led Facebook to block a posting by an Israeli cartoonist depicting the Jewish state as a giant who still believes he is the iconic Jewish boy raising his hands in fear in face of the Nazi soldiers. This type of censorship does not seem to have a clear political color; Facebook has also removed content following complaints from users aligned with the Israeli left, such as a recent post seen as inciting against African asylum seekers in Israel.
Facebook played host for several meetings leading to the establishment of an Anti-Cyberhate Working Group by the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism, a nongovernmental organization composed of interested parliamentarians from around the world. Google joined Facebook as the other major participant in the newly established task force, a product of the coalition’s May 7 agreement.
“We welcome the commitments of Google and Facebook to participate in this dialogue to combat online hate speech, Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism,” ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, said in a statement. “Working alongside the Internet’s leaders will allow for the development of industry standards that balance effectiveness with respect for the right to free speech.”
Jewish and pro-Israeli activists have been monitoring posts on Facebook ever since it gained prominence as the leading vehicle for internet-based social engagement. An early test in March 2011 made clear that the social network is open to dialogue with those seeking to rein in speech they view as extremist.
An Arabic page put up then called for a “third Palestinian intifada,” and included content posted by the page’s administrators quoting a hadith, or saying of the Prophet, that has been appropriated by radical groups: “The hour [of redemption] does not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and even the stones and trees say, ‘O Muslim, a Jew is behind me, so kill him.’”
The Arabic language Facebook page attracted more than 330,000 fans, according to the Jerusalem Post, and called for a mass march into Israel from neighboring countries. The call appeared to echo the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia taking place at the time. But a number of messages posted by fans contained both implicit and explicit violent content, according to a translation of the site quoted by the Post.
The content led Israeli Minister of Information and Diaspora Yuli Edelstein to send a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, asking him to remove the page. Jewish groups also marshaled a mass pressure campaign for the page’s removal. After initially resisting, Facebook complied. Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman said the page was removed because it contained “direct calls for violence or expressions of hate.”
“They lagged on that one a bit, but when they saw the reactions, they removed it,” Lauter said.
She added that despite Facebook’s understanding of Jewish groups’ concerns, the social media site is still slow in responding to requests to remove pages when it comes to Holocaust deniers.
Facebook, which has more than 800 million users worldwide, has shown its willingness to address concerns of other interest groups and of governments, as well. Its public guidelines specifically allow the social network to provide government and law enforcement agencies with information on its users as it determines necessary, even in the absence of a court order.