Facebook suspends Netanyahu’s chatbot over anti-Arab incitement

Facebook said on Thursday that it was suspending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chatbot for anti-Arab hate speech in his re-election campaign ahead of the vote on Sept. 17.

A statement in Hebrew by Facebook said the social network decided to suspend for 24 hours an automatic messaging bot used by on Netanyahu’s Likud ruling party. “Should there be any additional violations, we will continue to take appropriate action,” the statement read.

“After reviewing the Likud campaign’s bot activities, we found a violation of our hate speech policy,” the company announced.

Facebook said the bot was also collecting data on users who visited Netanyahu’s account. “We also found that the bot was misusing the platform in the time period allowed to contact people,” said the company.

Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu denied he was involved in the wording of the message, charging it was “a mistake” by one of the Likud’s campaign employees. “I’m a serious person,” he said in an interview to Kan Bet, Israel’s national radio. “I have friends in Arab countries.”

The chatbot’s message was condemned by left-wing political leaders. Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab-Jewish Joint List party, said Netanyahu “has no red lines” and call on to “put an end to Netanyahu’s dangerous racist incitement against the Arab population.”

Arab citizens of Israel, composing about 20 percent of the country’s population, are Palestinians who stayed put during the 1948 war, Israel’s Independence War. They often complain about lack of job opportunities, racism, and discrimination in all fields of life, including access to health, education, transportation, and municipal services.

On the April 2019 election day, Netanyahu’s Likud party planted hidden cameras in ballots located in Arab towns, a move condemned as an attempt to deter Arab voters and decrease their turnout.