Social media heeding most Israeli calls to delete 'incitement': minister

September 12, 2016 1:33 PM EDT

A man holds his smartphone which displays the Google home page, in this picture illustration taken in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, August 22, 2016. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

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By Steven Scheer

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Facebook, Google and YouTube are complying with up to 95 percent of Israeli requests to delete content that the government says incites Palestinian violence, Israel's Justice Minister said on Monday.

Perhaps spurred by the minister's threat to legislate to make companies open to prosecution if they host images or messages that encourage terrorism, their rate of voluntary compliance has soared from 50 percent in a year, she said.

"Our main aim is for those companies to do their own monitoring of material containing incitement," Ayelet Shaked said after a meeting with Facebook officials.

"Just as ISIS (Islamic State) video clips are being monitored and removed from the network, we want them to take the same action against Palestinian material that incites terrorism," she told the International Conference on Counter-terrorism near Tel Aviv.

"The world now understands that (social) networks serve as a greenhouse for terrorists," Shaked said in her speech.

Facebook declined to confirm Shaked's assertion that it complied with 95 percent of Israel's requests, but a spokeswoman said it constantly takes down offensive material and responds to requests from many countries, organizations and individuals.

"We came to listen and see if can be do better. We have zero tolerance for terrorism," she said, adding that Facebook's standards "make it clear there is no place for terrorists or content that promotes terrorism on Facebook."

Both Shaked and Facebook said they would prefer companies voluntarily remove inciting content than be prosecuted.

A spokesman for Google, parent company of YouTube, which Shaked said complied with 80 percent of requests, declined to comment.

Shaked said that in the past year, Israel had issued 120 indictments against Palestinians and 50 against Israeli citizens - both Jews and Arabs - for Facebook postings that contain incitement.

"These indictments are a deterrent and a very effective step," she said.

Israel increased its calls to Facebook to remove posts amid a surge in Palestinian attacks that began a year ago, carried out by individuals without the specific backing of militant groups. The violence has waned.

"People used to sit at the keyboard and think they could write whatever they wanted, that is has no significance. But we learned that words can kill ... and indicting those who sit at home and write 'Death to the Arabs', or 'Death to the Jews, or 'Slaughter the Jews', is effective and deterring."

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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