Today’s New York Times has an op-ed by the son of an American-Israeli man killed in the recent slew of knife attacks, blaming the murder on social media. The piece is titled “The Facebook Intifada,” and echoes claims by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that social media are inciting the attacks.
The author, Micah Lakin Avni, is the son of the late Richard Lakin, and has joined a suit against Facebook. Some excerpts of his argument:
[T]he world leaders who were having the most impact on the situation in the Middle East right now weren’t Mr. Ban or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and other young entrepreneurs who shape the social media platforms most of us use every day…
My father raised me to cherish and protect free speech, but the very liberty that free speech was designed to protect is at stake when it is used to spread venom and incite violence….
[R]ampant online incitement is a danger that must be reckoned with immediately, before more innocent people end up as victims…
[S]omething new is happening today, and what Facebook, Twitter and the others must realize is that the question of incitement on social media isn’t just a logistical or financial question but, first and foremost, a moral one.
This wave of terrorism is different from anything we’ve seen, involving not terrorists recruited by shadowy organizations but ordinary young men and women inspired by hateful and bloody messages they see online to take matters and blades into their own hands.
The article echoes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu without crediting him:
“Osama Bin Laden meets Mark Zuckerberg. The incitement in the social networks is moving the murders.” [Netanyahu said on Oct. 19]
And the article is being pushed by the Anti-Defamation League, an American Zionist organization, as cause to pressure Facebook and Twitter. Writes the ADL’s Michael Salberg:
A moving plea for social media companies to recalibrate the balance between free expression & moral responsibility
The article never mentions the Israeli occupation or its persecution of Palestinians. Indeed, it lies by omission on that score from the start: “Three weeks ago, my father was riding on a public bus in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood when terrorists from East Jerusalem shot him in the head and stabbed him multiple times.” But the neighborhood in which Lakin was attacked is an occupied portion of East Jerusalem, Allison Deger has described the character of the occupation there. This Zionist organization promotes the settlement as a destination for American Jews and notes its strategic importance: “one of 5 neighborhoods that was built after the Six-Day War to envelop Jerusalem.”
Last week Juan Cole’s site posted a great interview with Duke anthropologist Rebecca Stein blowing up the Facebook fallacy:
The narrative is facile and deeply misleading. To understand the root causes of the current violence one has to consider the effects of 48 years of military occupation and the increasing desperation of the Palestinian population — desperation that stems from both discontent with Palestinian leadership after two decades of a failed Oslo process and the desperation born of living under decades of repressive military rule…
There’s no doubt that Palestinian social media has become more militarized, and to a remarkable degree. But, as many Palestinian commentators have noted, we should not confuse the instrument with the cause.
That piece shows just how irresponsible the Times is being. No doubt social media are playing a role in these attacks. I am horrified by the attacks and have made it a point to post statements that they are hurting the Palestinian cause internationally. But as Ghada Karmi said last night at NYU, the attacks are the inevitable result of denying an occupied people their rights.
Avni’s article closes with another misrepresentation:
When they heard the news of his passing, many of his friends — Christians, Muslims, Jews — posted his favorite photo on their social media channels. It shows an Arab and an Israeli boy, their arms around each other, while the text around them spells simply “coexist.”
But that iconic photo is a fake. Per the Forward, it was staged by Ricki Rosen, a photojournalist, following an explicit assignment from Maclean’s magazine in Canada in 1993 to illustrate the Oslo accords:
The Israeli boy in the yarmulke is Zvi Shapiro, the son of two secular American-Israelis. The Palestinian boy is Zemer Aloni, an Israeli Jew. The only real aspect of the photo is that the boys were indeed friends and that the picture was taken in their Jerusalem neighborhood