Out of the mouths of undergraduates

Seniors in the Communications Department at an Israeli College find a novel way to protest against Facebook's secret censoring policy.

Contact Editor
Arutz Sheva Staff,

Facebook protest
Facebook protest
INN: Sara S.

"We want Facebook to publicize a clear and coherent policy on censorship" demanded four seniors enrolled in the School for Communication and Media at the Rishon Letzion College of Management, the largest college in Israel with some 12,000 students.

The four, Gal Dekel-Asher, Gai Eini, Sara Sylvetsky and Gal Darzi decided to tackle the internet giant which they called "the largest country in the world" as part of their final project and to do it creatively, garnering the public's attention as well as that of the Israeli newspapers Maariv and Ha'ayin Ha'shvi'it which gave the protest space and photographic publicity.

The four held a demonstration in front of Facebook's Tel Aviv offices, and while they spoke softly and had police permits, they carried a big stick: "Facebook needs us, the users," they said, "especially young adults who make up such a large percentage of users."

The four students hung signs saying Face-bully and created a Facebook page of that name. They also made 25 life-size cardboard figures of well known personalities who had had their pages or posts blocked.

Facebook protest
צילום: Sara S.

"We are the ones who decide whether Facebook will have power or not, so we have to get together and insist they publicize clear, rational and coherent rules for blocking pages and erasing posts of which they don't approve, instead of what seems arbitrary to us," said Sara Sylvetsky.

"Facebook never publicized its rules and no one can find a logical reason for the blockages, they have never turned to users about it and that is infuriating," another of the students continued. "But Facebook is us."

The last few months have seen qute a few incidents in Israel where people's facebook pages were blocked. This included media personalities such as Yotam Zimri from Radio Galei Yisrael, who complained bitterly on his popular radio broadcasts that he was powerless to get his page back. The quick-tongued broadcaster had half-humorously called the terrorists who attacked Israelis before the holidays "stupid," for not waiting till after the holidays. He later said sarcastically that it was "an insult" to be blocked for 24 hours when he felt he deserved at least a week. Others had used words blocked by Facebook's unknown algorithms, even though in some cases, the words were used in critical fashion. Listeners wrote and called in their stories of seemingly random blocking.

The manager of the Mizbala (trasheap) blog, for example, was blocked when he publicized the phone numbers of Facebook heads in Israel, according to Maariv. His personal site was also blocked and defined as spam.

Figure of media personality Avishai Ivri, also blocked on Facebook
INN:RS

However, Facebook's algorithm seems to have no problem with videos of live murder scenes, instructions to terrorists on how to knife Jews efficiently, anti Semitic rants and hate messages.

This past month, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decided that Israeli citizens can sue international megacompanies, such as Facebook, in Israeli courts and under Israeli law. The AG's position paper says that the Facebook contract that allows for suing the company only in California is null and void, because if the internet provider has come to the user's place of residence, and invests in marketing and deals in order to expand his profits, he has to allow his clients to exercise their rights without special efforts.

The protests against Facebook's dictates seem to be spreading to the public. Only time will tell if the college student protest will succeed in getting the interest of students around the world.