Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel is reported to be seeking to compel QOptical Networks set up service centers to provide explanations in Hebrew to users whose content has been removed or who have been banned from using their platforms.
According to a Monday report on Channel 13 news, the initiative is a sign that social media giants such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are now seen as networking platforms, and thus fall under Hendel’s ministry.
There was no statement from Hendel on the matter, but he retweeted the report from his official account in a tacit confirmation.
The reported proposal came as Israel considers measures to rein in global social media companies, including Facebook, and possibly hold them more accountable for posts on their platform.
Hendel is a member of the right-wing New Hope party, whose leader, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, is pushing legislation to curb “incitement” on social media. That bill passed a major hurdle on Monday, securing the required approval from the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, and will now advance to its second and third reading in plenary.
It would allow courts to “remove social networking content that presents a real threat to someone’s personal security, state security, or public security.”
By law, a judge can issue an order requiring a content publisher, such as Facebook or TikTok, to remove posts from their website, if law enforcement agencies are satisfied that they have committed a criminal offense by posting the content.
The bill’s explanatory text lists sexual offenses in online posts, posts that violate someone’s privacy, and posts that might harm someone’s dignity, as examples of criminal content being shared on social media.
While online incitement is already illegal, the bill would give authorities more powers to remove social media posts.
Under the proposed bill, complaints about a particular post on social media would be submitted to the attorney general and, with the attorney general’s office approved, sent to a local court within 24 hours for sentencing.
When the bill was first proposed, leaders of several right-wing opposition parties criticized the measure as a blow to free speech, claiming that a provision could be exploited that would allow courts to remove content that “endangers mental health” for use in censoring right-wing content online.
The approval of the bill drew swift condemnation from opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who tweeted: “Democracy is in danger, Gideon Sa’ar passed the” Iranian “law to censor social networks in Israel.”
Pro-democracy organizations have also expressed concerns that the bill could be used to repress activists.