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In a social experiment, a Jewish and an Arab Israeli were asked by a local TV channel to make terror threats on Facebook. While the “Arab terrorist” was summoned to police, the “Jewish” one got more than 1200 likes. Facebook itself failed to react to suspicious posts.
The experiment conducted by Israel’s Channel 10 TV was originally aimed at examining the effectiveness of the social network in combating the incitement of hatred and terror. It followed a recent dispute between the Israeli government and Facebook senior executives on the matter. The channel asked two young Israelis, a Jew named Daniel Levy and a Palestinian, Shadi Khalieleh, to post a message claiming that they intend to carry out an act of terrorism, Amir Regev, a producer at Channel 10, said in an email to RT. It was made clear that they are taking part in an experiment and do not actually intend to do any harm. The sentences the two participants of the experiment were asked to use were picked from the phrases that real terrorists had written on Facebook before committing their attacks. The channel wanted to find out whether the network will notice suspicious messages and how long it will take to take down the posts that were illegal under Facebook policy. Additionally, the channel also wanted to see if the Israeli authorities will react to the terrorist threats posted on social media.
Facebook apparently did not notice either of the suspicious messages. As the experiment was held throughout the day, “Facebook did not intervene and allowed both posts to remain online”, Regev said. Finally, the channel asked the posters to remove the messages on their own. Facebook receives millions of complaints in dozens of languages from around the world and the posts are said to remain online while the decision on whether to remove it is being taken by moderators. It “demonstrated how complicated it is to comb the social network and minimize the effect of incitement to terror”, Regev said.
In the meantime, the post written by the Israeli Arab was reported to the police. It took the matter seriously and summoned him to the police station. Later, police also stormed Khalieleh’s house but were unable to find him at home. After police declared the man wanted for an interrogation, Channel 10 intervened and proved that Khalieleh’s post was only a social experiment. At the same time, no police action followed in Levy’s case, according to the broadcaster. Social media reaction to the two posts was also different. While the Levy’s post received more than 1200 likes and about 34 shares within a few hours, Khalieleh received only 7 likes on his post with some people also urging him not to resort to violence. It is, however, unknown if Palestinian and Jewish communities have equal representation on Facebook or at least comparable access to the internet. It was also unclear if all people, who reacted to the two posts, were Israeli citizens.
The outcome of the experiment was, however, already used by some politicians for their own political goals. “Such experiment only goes to show that Israel official discourse has allowed for the normalization of hateful discourse”, Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said, as quoted by Palestine News Network. “Not only does the Israeli government fail to foster and promote a culture of peace, official Israeli discourse entrenches hatred, racism, and discriminatory attitudes against Palestinians”, he said.
The experiment was conducted after Israeli government accused Facebook authorities of doing little or nothing to take down inciting posts urging Palestinians to commit acts of terrorism against Israelis, the Channel 10 said. According to the channel, assailants declared their intentions in social networks before committing the attacks at least in ten recent cases. An incident, in which a 17-year-old attacker wrote “death is a right and I demand my right” in a Facebook post before stabbing a 13-year-old Israeli girl to death, provoked a particular outrage of the Israeli government that partly blamed Facebook for the girl’s death. It also demanded that the social network remove messages that incite violence and provide accurate information about the people behind the threats.