The intifada won’t start here, says Facebook
In this week’s Torah commentary, Rabbi Nosson Sachs praises the ability of social media to not only connect us all, but actually help us enact change. We all watched as Egyptians took to Facebook to air their grievances against a corrupt government, and then we all watched as they brought that government to the ground. Now Facebook doesn’t make people do anything, but its power to make individuals feel bound together, and thereby gain the strength and boldness to take action is undeniable.
But just as that power can work for the betterment of the world, so too can it work against progress and, in the case of the “Third Intifada” pages that keep popping up on Facebook, against peace.
People using the Internet as a forum to say racist, offensive and simply mean things is nothing new; just check the comments section of any gossip blog. The web provides a veil of anonymity, giving people the freedom to be as flagrant as they wish with no repercussions. Not so on Facebook, the social networking site built upon people’s personal profiles, where individuals define themselves with pictures, “likes” and membership to pages supporting anything from their favorite coffee shop to “The Third Palestinian Intifada,” a page pushing for a third violent uprising to begin May 15, Israel’s Independence Day.
Herein lies the question that faced Facebook this week: should such a page be allowed? Isn’t its (alarmingly large) 330,000-person membership just expressing their beliefs?
Last week, when pressure to remove the page began to mount from groups including the Anti-Defamation League, Facebook representatives said that the page would be monitored, but stressed the site’s policy to uphold freedom of speech. But freedom of speech and violent threats are very different things; the pages and posts that helped realize revolution in Egypt didn’t include posts like “Prepare: Death comes to you, O raider of this abode.” “The Third Palestinian Intifada” did, verbatim.
Facebook deleted the page Tuesday morning. A spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post, “We continue to believe that people on Facebook should be able to express their opinions, and we don’t typically take down content that speaks out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas. However, we monitor pages that are reported to us, and when they degrade to direct calls for violence or expressions of hate — as occurred in this case — we have, and will continue to, take them down.”
We applaud Facebook’s ability to acknowledge when a line has been crossed; we’d support the same action for a page inciting violence against Palestinians, or anyone. The Internet can be a scary place. More “Third Intifada” pages have already sprouted on Facebook. But it’s good to know the gatekeepers of one of the world’s most influential websites know when enough is enough.