Leave the Facebook page up

Last week, Gather the Jews asked its readers whether Facebook was right or wrong to take down a page calling for a “Third Intifada” against Israel.  In this post, Yaakov Roth argues that the page should have been left up.  Samara Greenberg counters that Facebook made the right decision by taking the page down.

Yaakov Roth is a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  He now practices law and lives in Washington, DC.

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Yaakov Roth

Let me be clear at the outset on two points.  First, I yield to nobody on my support for Israel.  Accordingly, I believe that the Facebook page calling for a “third Palestinian intifada” was not only misguided, but abhorrent.  Second, because Facebook is not the Government, it is free to censor any person and any ideas it wishes.  I have no legal or constitutional objection.

The real questions are these:  Accepting that the intifada page in question is despicable, and that Facebook has a legal right to remove it, should it do so?  And should Jews and other supporters of Israel be actively encouraging such removal?  My answers are “no,” for six reasons.

1. Removal does not accomplish much.  If hundreds of thousands of people around the world support the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews, will taking down this Facebook page really change that?  Unfortunately, hatred cannot be so easily suppressed; it will always find another outlet.  It is naïve to think that the dismantling of this solitary page will have any appreciable impact, or constitutes some type of meaningful victory.

2. Removal may in fact be counterproductive.  Often, attempts to censor provide additional notoriety for the noxious expression at issue.  Especially if the concern with the intifada page was that its exposure would further twist the minds of the young and impressionable toward anti-Semitism, creating a global campaign against it surely produced the best publicity imaginable.

3. Removal distracts from the real issue.  Making this page the focus of our energies simply diverts from the real problem—that hatred and support for violence against Jews is far more pervasive than we imagine.  That hundreds of thousands were comfortable attaching their names publicly to this “cause” is shocking—and that shock is of great value in awakening us from our liberal western sensibilities.  Dismantling the page not only leaves intact the underlying cause for concern; it perpetuates a sheltered, naïve worldview that ignores the existence of our enemies.

4. The page has transparency benefits.  Silencing hatred may have superficial appeal, but there is something to be said for knowing who the haters are.  I would prefer, for example, that stores, restaurants, and hotels were permitted to openly exclude Jews, because I would not want to unknowingly support someone who secretly wishes to destroy me.  Likewise, the existence of the intifada page shines a light on the enemies of Israel.  (Imagine if this page had existed 25 years ago and a young Barack Obama had signed on—maybe fewer Jews would have voted for him.)

5. Removal sets a bad precedent.  Although Facebook is not the Government, it occupies a similar role in the cyber-world, and consequently many classic First Amendment rationales for freedom of speech retain their force in this context.  For one, censorship of “hate speech” requires line-drawing, and line-drawing is always problematic.  Better to avoid it altogether.

6. Removal sends a bad signal.  The side that seeks to silence its opposition always looks weak, as if it cannot fight back with facts and therefore needs to resort to censorship—an unfortunate message to send to the world.  We should condemn this type of rhetoric, as well as its substance, but not go so far as to insist on its removal from the marketplace of ideas.

Ultimately, I confess that I am pleased that the intifada page no longer exists, and I certainly am not going to complain or criticize Facebook for its decision, which was well within its rights.  But I would suggest that if this problem recurs—as it undoubtedly will, if it has not already—that the Jewish and pro-Israel communities embrace a different approach.