Jerusalem Post reported that a law that would make websites responsible for the content of their comments has been introduced by a government minister. Yisrael Hasson of the right-wing Israel Beiteinu party has introduced a bill that would define all websites with at least 50,000 hits a day as a newspaper, in terms of libel.
That means that if a comment is left on a site of this size on a comment field or in forum, a person who disliked that comment could sue the site for libel. To understand the import of this, it’s important to note that in Israel every major newspaper site, and most others, have functioning, open commenting enabled and those comments are often both anonymous and strongly-worded.
I talked to Gal Mor and Jonathan Klinger a few days ago. They’re both well-informed and politically active, and they both think the law has a good chance of being passed because it was the initiative of a government minister, rather than an ordinary Member of Knesset.
Yisrael Hasson, the minister who submitted the bill, is a member of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party. However, this bill is still a *long* way from becoming law. It’ll have to go through three committee readings, then three readings on the Knesset floor.
My impression - and Gal agrees with me - is that Hasson is a dinosaur who simply does not understand the internet. None of the Israeli news sites can afford to hire full time staff to moderate the comments which sometimes come in at the rate of up to 150,000 per hour. Most of the comments are anonymous, and a high percentage are abusive. The wording of the bill highlights his ignorance of the internet: it refers, for example, to sites that receive a minimum of 50,000 hits per day - but it doesn’t specify page visits or unique hits.
As one commenter on Jonathan Klinger’s site put it: if Hasson wants to stop commenters from posting death threats, I can understand him; but if he wants to stop them from leaving comments along the lines of “Yisrael Hasson is a fascist and I hate him,” then we have a problem with an MK who does not understand democracy.
According to GV, the bill has already passed its “first reading.” Two more and it will become law. Should that happen, Israel’s vital online conversation will be muted and, distressingly, it will join Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait and Syria in prosecuting not bloggers but people who comment on blogs for illegal speech.