Fake news is fast becoming a scourge threatening the well-being of the democratic state and human rights, which is why it calls for action to curb its spread. To wit, a survey conducted in the framework of Zulat’s Human Rights Index found that 69% of respondents agree that false information on social media reduces the willingness of Israelis to get vaccinated against the corona virus.
This unique report identifies and characterizes the human rights that are harmed by fake news in Israel and suggests ways to address it, based on observations and lessons learned about what is being done in other countries. It proposes to deal with the phenomenon by reinforcing and upgrading existing mechanisms that target the disseminators, while remaining sensitive to the need to protect the citizens’ freedom of expression.
Disinformation disguised as news content floods social media today, conveniently shielded by the basic right to freedom of expression, which does not distinguish between truth and falsehood. The basic right to freedom of expression has been exploited in recent years in a way that threatens other rights as follows:
- The right to privacy: It has been significantly eroded due to the lack of control over digital platforms, which take advantage of the lack of transparency to gather a great deal of information, easily and quickly, without the users’ knowledge.
- The right to equality: Its violation, through the systematic dissemination of false messages and disinformation, at times to the point of being life-threatening, mainly affects ethnic minorities.
- The public’s right to know: This can no longer be limited to ensuring the public’s access to data and must also ensure that the data is not false.
- The public’s right to free elections: It has been violated considerably as a result of the dissemination of false and customized disinformation, using data collected about voters’ personal characteristics and preferences. This practice undermines the essence of the democratic system.
- The right to health: This right is violated when information, even if reliable and professional, is buried under an avalanche of conspiracy theories. This situation keeps some publics from obtaining appropriate medical care and leads to loss of life.
- Freedom of the press: This fundamental principle faces continuous challenges in Israel and is increasingly in danger due to the vast availability of unreliable sources of information that chip away at the press’s ability to be the watchdog of democracy.
Addressing the dangers posed by fake news is of paramount importance, especially in light of the deep tensions in Israeli society and the exposure to incitement on social media. As a result of the verbal violence engendered by fake news, the transition from a free and open discourse to violence among various publics in Israel – mainly between right and left, Jews and Arabs, secular and ultra-Orthodox – may occur much faster than in the past. To this must be added the relatively little attention paid by Israeli decision-makers to its explosive consequences.
To deal with the phenomenon, Zulat proposes in the first stage to reinforce and upgrade Israel’s existing mechanisms that target disseminators of fake news while remaining considerate of and sensitive to the need to protect the citizens’ freedom of expression and, at the same time, ensure that companies, organizations, and individuals do not take advantage of this freedom of expression to infringe on the rights of citizens.
In light of this, we hereby recommend to introduce amendments to the Election Law in order to rein in attempts to defraud voters, increase enforcement vis-a-vis the relevant offenses under the Penal Code, enact legislation to regulate the status of the press, and to join recent legislative initiatives by international organizations, based on lessons learned from countries around the world and taking into account the characteristics of Israeli society and the challenges it has been facing throughout its existence. The goal of these changes is to formulate preventive and punitive measures that are proportionate and appropriate and are in no way perceived by parts of the public as arbitrary, discriminatory, disproportionate, or anachronistic.
Legal advice: Adv. Itay Mack
Thanks to FakeReporter