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Glenn Greenwald Calls Out Facebook for Working With Israeli Government on Censorship Plan

Sean MacEntee / CC-BY-2.0

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald turned his focus this week to the dangers of Facebook collaborating with Israel on what many are calling an effort to censor content that leaders in the Middle Eastern state find objectionable.

Facebook officials, Greenwald revealed, have laid out plans with the Israeli government on how to block material that they feel “incites violence.” This news comes at a time when the Israeli government is pushing legislation that would censor social media content from platforms its members consider disagreeable. Because Facebook is a private company, its top brass reserves the right to take down any content.

Greenwald also noted that this isn’t Facebook’s only censorship controversy from the past few days. The social media megacompany was just forced by an international backlash to reverse its decision to remove posts that included photographer Nick Ut’s famous 1972 photograph, titled “The Terror of War,” which he shot during the Vietnam War.

Here’s the crux of the issue from Greenwald’s latest Intercept exposé:

The joint Facebook-Israel censorship efforts, needless to say, will be directed at Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians who oppose Israeli occupation. The AP article makes that clear: “Israel has argued that a wave of violence with the Palestinians over the past year has been fueled by incitement, much of it spread on social media sites.”As Alex Kane reported in The Intercept in June, Israel has begun actively surveilling Palestinians for the content of their Facebook posts and even arresting some for clear political speech. Israel’s obsession with controlling Palestinians’ use of social media is motivated by the way it has enabled political organizing by occupation opponents; as Kane wrote: “A demonstration against the Israeli occupation can be organized in a matter of hours, while the monitoring of Palestinians is made easier by the large digital footprint they leave on their laptops and mobile phones.”

Notably, Israel was represented in this meeting with Facebook by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, an extremist by all measures who has previously said she does not believe in a Palestinian state. Shaked has “proposed legislation that seeks to force social networks to remove content that Israel considers to be incitement,” and recently boasted that Facebook is already extremely compliant with Israeli censorship demands: “Over the past four months Israel submitted 158 requests to Facebook to remove inciting content,” she said, and Facebook has accepted those requests in 95 percent of the cases.

All of this underscores the severe dangers of having our public discourse overtaken, regulated, and controlled by a tiny number of unaccountable tech giants. I suppose some people are comforted by the idea that benevolent Facebook executives like Mark Zuckerberg are going to protect us all from “hate speech” and “incitement,” but—like “terrorism—neither of those terms have any fixed meanings, are entirely malleable, and are highly subject to manipulation for propagandistic ends. Do you trust Facebook—or the Israeli government—to assess when a Palestinian’s post against Israeli occupation and aggression passes over into censorship-worthy “hate speech” or “incitement”? …

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Facebook, at this point, is far and away the most dominant force in journalism. It is indescribably significant to see it work with a government to censor the speech of that government’s opponents. But as is so often the case with censorship, people are content with its application until it is used to suppress views they agree with or like.

Reports of Facebook censorship in the United States have also circulated of late. At the end of August, online commentator Matt Orfalea claimed his post on Facebook was taken down with no explanation. The post included a video that charged that PBS had removed a section of a Jill Stein interview in which the Green Party presidential nominee criticized the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

—Postedby Donald Kaufman.

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