Campaign against Facebook misses its mark

December 6, 2016 by J-Wire Staff
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An Israel-based civil rights organisation launched its first-ever online campaign in the U.S. today to build public support for a pair of major lawsuits against Facebook, with a provocative video levelling unprecedented charges that the social media giant is inciting terrorism around the world…but an Australian expert says the campaign missing its mark.
The campaign, featuring a YouTube video by Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Centre, comes after the recent stabbing and car-ramming attack by an Ohio State University student, when investigators exposed the attacker’s Facebook rant urging people to follow the slain al-Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki.

That attack and video underscore Shurat HaDin’s lawsuits against Facebook, Cohen v. Facebook and Force v. Facebook, which are pending before Judge Nicholas Garafufis in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn. A hearing to decide whether those cases can proceed to trial is scheduled for January 19, 2017.

The video, “Who’s Behind Terror? Rewind!,” inspired by the movie “Memento,” opens with a slow-motion replay of a terrorist bomb attack in New York City, then rewinds time 10 minutes, then two hours, then 24 hours, then three months, to show the key moments when Facebook helped incite the terrorist to act.

“Facebook and other social media platforms have become a crucial component for international terror, the same as guns, bombs and money,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the founder of Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Centre. “For years now, Facebook has continued to provide a platform for terrorist incitement despite repeated warnings. This has become one of today’s top global threats. Social media platforms want to believe terror has nothing to do with them and that they have unlimited immunity and can do whatever they want. We are going to put an end to it.”

Shurat HaDin’s first case against Facebook, Cohen v. Facebook, was filed in 2015 on behalf of 20,000 Israelis during the first weeks of the so-called “stabbing intifada,” after two Palestinians armed with a knife and gun attacked passengers on an Israeli bus. The case was originally named Lakin v. Facebook, but the case name was changed after one of the victims, Richard Lakin, succumbed to his wounds.

In this case, Shurat HaDin seeks to shut down terrorist pages on Facebook not because of their content but because by allowing this content, Facebook allegedly facilitates terrorism by providing services to terrorists. The case seeks an injunction forcing Facebook to actively monitor and block such pages, similarly to how banks block transactions with known terrorists.

In a second lawsuit, Force v. Facebook, Shurat HaDin seeks $1 billion in damages on behalf the families of five Israeli victims of the terrorist group Hamas. This case, under the U.S. Antiterrorism Act, charges Facebook with providing material support and resources to Hamas – which the U.S. has designated a “foreign terrorist organisation” – in the form of Facebook services that the group used in carrying out terrorist actions.

“It is shocking that one could not transfer even one dollar to Hamas because banks know not to permit transactions with terrorists, but Hamas and known Hamas officials can open Facebook pages, and use Facebook to recruit terrorists and aggrandize terrorism,” said attorney Robert J. Tolchin, who represents the plaintiffs in Brooklyn as the local counsel for Shurat HaDin.

“Facebook’s sophisticated platform and services are used by terrorists for communication, logistics, intelligence, fundraising and even prestige,” Shurat HaDin said in filing the first lawsuit. “Facebook has the data and the capability to cease providing services to terrorists, and it has chosen not to do so.”

Dr Andre Oboler

Dr Andre Oboler

But Dr Andre Oboler of the Online Hate Prevention Institute told J-Wire that this is far from the first online campaign by Shurat Hadin and like their past campaigns, it misses the mark.

He said: “The Shurat Hadin video made a clear case that terrorists, like everyone else, try to use Facebook to communicate.

The remedy they claim to be seeking is an injunction to force Facebook to remove the page of proscribed terrorist groups. There is a fundamental flaw in this approach.

The use of Facebook to support terrorism is already illegal in the United States and entirely different legally to the use of Facebook to promote hate speech which US law protects as a form of free speech. Facebook is already required by US criminal law to remove content supporting terrorism and they are pretty good at it.

This campaign seems more about fundraising than combating terrorism. With groups the ADL reporting a 50-fold rise in donations the day after the US election, including many six figure donations to tackle online hate, Shurat Hadin seems to want a piece of the pie.

While the European Commission pours millions into supporting civil society to tackle these problems, it’s a sad state of affairs that here in Australia the Government is not only failing to provide financial support for such work, but running an inquiry into removing the very laws that help us get online hate and extremism removed.

Meanwhile the Online Hate Prevention Institute, an Australian not-for-profit recognised as a leading in this field internationally and the creator of innovative tools to tackle the problem, is struggling to survive. The social media world does pose dangers, both through extremism and incitement to hate, but we need to give our support and our donations to places where they will be used effectively.”

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