Palestine rights groups warn against proposed Israel Facebook law

The Palestinian Digital Rights Coalition (PDRC) and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) released a statement Wednesday warning against the passage of Israel’s “Facebook law.”

According to the groups, the proposed law “grants Israeli courts the power to demand the removal of user-generated content on social media content platforms that can be perceived as inflammatory or as harming  ‘the security of the state,’ or the security of people or the security of the public.”

The PDRC and PHROC expressed concern over vague terms such as “incitement” and “threats to public safety” used within the text of the law and fear the law will be enforced too broadly and effectively limit Palestinian advocacy.

They cite the activity of the Israeli Cyber Unit to argue that Israeli authorities wish to bring Israeli occupation of Palestine into the digital space. The Cyber Unit submitted 2,421 requests to social media companies to remove Palestinian content in 2016. In 2020, that figure grew to more than 20,000 requests. The proposed legislation would only strengthen the relationship between the Cyber Unit and social media companies.

Experts from the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) also oppose the bill. IDI researchers Dr. Tehila Schwartz-Altschuler and Dr. Assaf Wiener wrote to the Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs and asked them to amend the bill before approving it. The pair said the bill “is wider than necessary and opens a substantial and procedural opening for government censorship.”

Israeli lawmakers attempted to pass similar laws in 2016 and 2017 but were unsuccessful. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Ministerial Committee approved the legislation on December 27 against the advice of free speech experts. The proposed law will now go to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, for approval.