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Israel says Facebook helps to enable Palestinian attacks

Facebook has responded to allegations that the social media site is 'sabotaging' Israeli police. 

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A Facebook logo is displayed on the side of a tour bus in New York's financial district July 28, 2015.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters/File

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Facebook responded Sunday to allegations made by the Israeli government that the site has been "sabotaging" police efforts to prevent Palestinian violence. 

A day prior, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan accused Facebook of not cooperating with Israeli inquiries about potential suspects in the occupied West Bank, and of "set(ting) a very high bar for removing inciteful content and posts." 

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The accusation followed a 10-month surge in Palestinian street attacks, some of which were inspired by content on the social network, the Israeli government says. 

"Incitement to violence on social media is a phenomenon that only recently is gaining traction," said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, in May. "Following attacks, many assailants have stated that they were directly inspired by incitement on social media, which led them to carry out the attacks."

While Facebook did not directly respond to Mr. Erdan's comments, it did issue a statement saying that the site works with the Israeli government to prevent such violence. 

"We work regularly with safety organizations and policymakers around the world, including Israel, to ensure that people know how to make safe use of Facebook," the statement said. "There is no room for content that promotes violence, direct threats, terrorist or hate speeches on our platform." 

The social media site also urged Israeli authorities and other users to flag any offensive content. 

"We have a set of community standards designed to help people understand what's allowed on Facebook, and we call on people to use our report if they find content they believe violates these rules, so that we can examine each case and take quick action," the statement said. 

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, however, says the current policy doesn't do enough to curb potentially threatening content. 

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"We want the companies not to approve and to themselves remove posts by terrorist groups and incitement to terrorism without us having to flag each individual post, in just the same manner, for example, that they today do not allow posts and pages with child pornography," Ms. Shaked told Israel's Army Radio. 

This is not the first time Facebook has been accused of having a bias against Israel. 

In December, the Tel Aviv-based Israel Law Center conducted an experiment in which it created two Facebook pages: "Stop Palestinians" and "Stop Israel." Similar content was posted on both pages, including political cartoons with the respective captions "Death to all the Jews" and "Death to all the Arabs."

It then reported both pages to see if either would be removed. The anti-Palestinian page was shut down the same day it was reported, but the anti-Israel page was not. 

The experiment followed a lawsuit filed against Facebook by the Israel Law Center in October on behalf of 20,000 Israelis, charging that Facebook’s computers use algorithms to connect terrorists to users who’ve expressed interest in violent acts against Jews, and asking the court to order Facebook to stop allowing Palestinians to incite violent attacks against Israeli citizens. 

The lawsuit drew criticism from some concerned that it might limit free speech, and others who claimed that social media was a relatively "insignificant" factor in inciting violent attacks. 

"It’s not Facebook and YouTube and Twitter that is inspiring youth to take up knives against civilians," said Noura Erakat, an assistant professor of legal studies at George Mason University, in an interview with PBS NewsHour. "The root cause of this is the ongoing occupation and the violence, the military violence that’s meted out against Palestinian bodies every day." 

The Israeli government is currently drafting legislation that would allow the government to order social media sites, such as Facebook, to take down posts that are deemed a security threat.