Adjust size of text


Follow us and continue the conversation

Your saved articles

You haven't saved any articles

What are you looking for?

Fighting the Facebook Intifada

Sarah Knopman
Print this

Published: 14 November 2015

Last updated: 4 March 2024

This past month has been pretty rough.

In fact, I think it’s safe to say that when 12 and 13-year-olds are taking to the streets with knives and randomly stabbing people, things have become pretty bloody messed up.

Sure, we can beef up police and security power, enforce roadblocks, allow police to frisk anyone on the street suspected of carrying a weapon, shoot-to-kill suspected perpetrators, or temporarily bar Arab workers from schools and public areas, but none – none – of these measures will succeed in curbing the enthusiasm of those who seek wanton devastation, to lunge out and continue with these daily stabbing attempts. Everyone, after all, has access to a kitchen knife.

So I asked myself “What can I do to help stop the violence, if anything at all?”

I came to the view that one place to start is with social media incitement, with the instant dissemination of gruesome images, death clips, and instructions such as “how to stab a Jew”, which have played a huge role in escalating the current terror and violence and spreading it to younger age groups.

After all, it is against the law to provide assistance to a terrorist organisation.

For this reason, I am one of 20,000 plaintiffs taking Facebook to court in a class action lawsuit that Shurat HaDin filed for us recently against the social media giant in New York’s Brooklyn Supreme Court. This is not a PR stunt; and we do not seek monetary damages, but simply that Facebook be required to carry out its legal (and moral) obligations. We claim it has an obligation to remove all pages, groups and posts containing threats of violence and incitement to murder, and that it must proactively monitor its website and remove incitement prior to dissemination.

One could be forgiven for believing that Facebook would take safety seriously and enforce a policy against the posting of content that incites violence or supports violent groups. After all, Facebook invites users to report content we find questionable or offensive. Facebook staff supposedly review these reports and remove content that violates its policies. Facebook is also known to have logarithms that could be used to find hateful material and take it down – the same way that it can detect and prohibit content that promotes paedophilia, or the way it knows what bands I like and when I need to lose weight. If it can push me targetted ads and connect me with friends and groups with similar interests to mine, surely Facebook can and should be doing more to monitor incitement to violence.

Just last week a company spokesperson said: "We want people to feel safe when using Facebook. There is no place for content encouraging violence, direct threats, terrorism or hate speech on Facebook. As a community of nearly 1.5 billion people, we have a set of community standards to help people understand what is allowed on Facebook and we urge people to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our standards so we can investigate and take swift action."

Well, along with countless inappropriate pages, groups, profiles and specific posts that I have reported to Facebook, I reported as offensive the dagger image that appears at the head of this article, after I noticed it on many Hamas-affiliated Facebook groups containing the standard “Stab Israelis” war cries and propaganda. I received a standard response from Facebook saying that this image does not go against Facebook's community standards. I find this strange, not least because of Facebook's own brand guidelines, which clearly state users are not to "modify the Thumbs-Up logo in any way, such as by changing the design or color."

And then there was this response from Facebook:
And this response:
So thank you, Facebook, for your reporting tools, but exactly whose community standards are we talking about when a page called “Stab Israelis” or “Death to Israel” are accepted as part of a safe and welcoming environment? Certainly not any standards that I would wish on my own community.

As someone living in the midst of this conflict, where an 80-year-old woman waiting at a bakery becomes a target, and a man is axed to death while waiting at a bus stop, and having watched videos of these incidents on Facebook and seen the thousands of likes, shares and inflammatory comments they evoke, I know that something is seriously wrong with Facebook’s application of its professed community standards.

Jay Michaelson, a contributing editor to The Forward, argued in a recent op-ed that this is a “frivolous” lawsuit, just clutching at straws, a “20th-century solution to a 21st-century problem” that he thinks will not work. Well, to that I say, I’d rather be clutching at straws than clutching at knives, pepper spray and nun chucks. What’s so wrong with at least trying to utilise lawfare in the face of warfare?

What Michaelson and others may not realise is that this is not just a case of a few posts that go “against Facebook’s rules… [and] would surely be removed if reported”. In fact thousands of offensive posts that violate Facebook’s community standards are being reported constantly and the vast majority are not being removed. Michaelson goes on to claim that “Facebook’s existing standards are strict enough to remove antisemitic hate speech.” I know from my own experience that that is not true - whatever the standards say, they are not applied strictly enough, and here is the crux. Many people are seriously trying to stop online incitement, and many of us do vigorously use Facebook’s reporting tools. There are groups that have recruited thousands of members specifically to help fight against antisemitism on Facebook as part of a coordinated effort to report inappropriate content to both the Israeli police and Facebook. There are over 7,200 very active members in the group of such reporters to which I belong.

I know that reporting and lawsuits are not likely to stop the next stabbing attack. I also know that for every page we succeed in having taken down, many more sprout up in its place. But I’ve come to think of this endeavour as my duty as a citizen. If the essence of conflict transformation is the transformation of attitudes, both within the society and within the individual, societies have to be involved from the top-down and from the bottom-up. There are moderates on both sides but, as long as the advocates of violence are allowed to carry on loud and free, with no one doing anything effective about it, the voices of the more softly spoken moderates will inevitably be smothered, making an already difficult peace process much worse.

While the outcome of this particular lawsuit remains to be seen, what my participation in it means to me is that individual people can get involved and play their part by taking a stand for what they believe in. That’s how social change happens.

This +61J article may be republished if acknowledged thus: “This article first appeared on www.thejewishindependent.com.au and is reprinted with permission."

About the author

Sarah Knopman

Sarah Knopman, originally from Sydney, Australia, lives in Tel Aviv with her husband and two young sons. Sarah is the Director of Media Relations and Communications for an international non-profit.


No comments on this article yet. Be the first to add your thoughts.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

Enter site