It's about time social media did right thing

By Robin Shepherd, August 16, 2012
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There may still be some out there who think this is all a figment of Benjamin Netanyahu's imagination. But, back on planet Earth, the global delegitimisation of Israel is very frightening, very widespread and very real.

It is also virtual, in the sense that from its "mildest-mannered" adherents to its most dangerous and violent, the use of social media is now taken for granted. Everyone who wants to get a message into the public domain understands that the internet has changed everything. Well, not everything exactly. Whatever the medium, incitement to hatred and violence is still an issue that legal authorities, as well as institutions and individuals worried about their reputations, are deeply concerned about.

So it is that a range of social media outlets have recently taken action against Hizbollah, the vile antisemitic terror outfit that advocates the destruction of Israel, and which glorifies some of the most horrific acts of terror against civilians, including children, in modern history. Reportedly, Hizbollah and its Al Manar TV station have been removed from Facebook, Apple iTunes, and Google Android.

The legal issues, as with so many other aspects of social media, are somewhat foggy. Yet, the fact that Hizbollah is (correctly) regarded as a terrorist outfit in the US (though, shamefully, not by Europe) may well have been an important influence. Nonetheless, Twitter and YouTube (at the time of writing) have taken a different approach, and Hezbollah, through these outlets, still has huge portals via which it can disseminate its message of hate throughout the world.

I am instinctively opposed to censorship. I believe that the wholly legitimate instruments of ostracism and naming and shaming, as opposed to state action,should be the antidote to extremism favoured by all who locate their core values inside the liberal tradition. But I also understand that incitement is a cause of some crimes, and that there are cases in which the argument for free speech must yield to such considerations.

Twitter and YouTube need to understand this, and to act. If a paedophile ring sets up an account on Twitter or opens up a TV station on YouTube, one doubts that the social media in question would adopt an "all's fair in love and war" approach and carry on regardless on the grounds that, in the rough and tumble of debate, the kids can take care of themselves.

The same standards should apply for Hizbollah. Twitter and YouTube should not wait for the state to do it. They should close them down because it's the right thing to do.

Robin Shepherd is owner publisher of www.thecommentator.com

    Last updated: 6:45pm, August 16 2012