LAST WEEK, A MAJOR censorship controversy erupted when Facebook began deleting all posts containing the iconic photograph of the Vietnamese "Napalm Girl" on the ground that it violated the company's ban on "child nudity." Facebook even deleted a post from the prime minister of Norway, who posted the photograph in protest of the censorship. As outrage spread, Facebook ultimately reversed itself -- acknowledging "the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time" -- but this episode illustrated many of the dangers I've previously highlighted in having private tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google become the arbiters of what we can and cannot see.
Having just resolved that censorship effort, Facebook seems to be vigorously courting another. The Associated Press reports today from Jerusalem that "the Israeli government and Facebook have agreed to work together to determine how to tackle incitement on the social media network." These meetings are taking place "as the government pushes ahead with legislative steps meant to force social networks to rein in content that Israel says incites violence." In other words, Israel is about to legislatively force Facebook to censor content deemed by Israeli officials to be improper, and Facebook appears eager to appease those threats by working directly with the Israeli government to determine what content should be censored.
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."