Monday, October 20, 2014 Tishri 26, 5775

Turn the Other Cheek?

March 30, 2011
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We all know by now that Facebook can fuel revolutions. Look at nearly every country in the Middle East and Northern Africa engulfed in uprisings against longtime dictatorial regimes. In every instance, it was the power of social media that helped enable disparate sectors of society to come out in the streets to protest.

So perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that the forces seeking to wreak havoc on Israel would take a page from the Facebook playbook, and launch their own campaign against the Jewish state.

The question is: What can and should Facebook do about it? When does legitimate freedom of expression cross the line to incitement to violence, demanding that the online giant take action?

Dubbed the "Third Palestinian Intifada," the site in question called for a violent uprising against Israel to begin on May 15. It harkens back to the first two uprisings when Israelis were killed en masse in suicide bombings, drive-by shootings and other acts of terror against civilians.

The site gained popularity with alarming speed. Within weeks of its creation, it had reportedly amassed more than 300,000 "friends."

Six months ago, we might have dismissed the effort as yet another relatively harmless attempt by radical forces to use the Internet to foment anger and discontent. But after Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, we understand better the power of the post.

Pro-Israel activists, the Anti-Defamation League and even the Israeli government went to work, lobbying Facebook to shut it down on the basis that it was inciting violence.

Yuli Edelstein, Israel's minister of diplomacy and Diaspora affairs, sent a letter March 23 to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg asking that it be removed.

"As Facebook's CEO and founder, you are obviously aware of the site's great potential to rally the masses around good causes, and we are all thankful for that," Edelstein wrote. "However, such potential comes hand in hand with the ability to cause great harm, such as in the case of the wild incitement displayed on the above-mentioned page."

Facebook's initial reaction was to reject the pleas, saying only that it would monitor the site for incitement. "While some kinds of comments and content may e upsetting for someone," a statement said, "that alone is not a reason tob remove the discussion."

But in an about-face and without comment, Facebook did shut down the page on Tuesday. Within hours, new similar pages had been created.

In this ever-changing information age, Facebook -- and our society as a whole -- must face these challenges head on. It's no longer just about privacy among friends, it's about the safety and future of whole societies.

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