Israel: Knesset Freezes Talkback Law for Web-Comment Censorship

The Knesset has decided to freeze legislation regulating readers’ ability to respond to articles via the so-called “Talkback Law”, in an effort to allow web sites to practice self-regulation. The Talkback Law, submitted by MK Israel Hasson (Yisrael Beiteinu), passed its preliminary reading. It would make web sites responsible for the talkbacks (user generated comments) of its readers as though they were articles of the site itself.

Avner Finchuk of the Israeli Civil Rights Association, addresses the Knesset legislators in an article on ynet:

החוק לא נועד, וגם אינו יכול, לחנך את הציבור לנימוסים והליכות. אם רוצים המחוקקים בכנסת להשפיע על תרבות הדיון הציבורי, יתכבדו ויתחילו לעשות זאת בביתם ואל יפגעו בציפור נפשה של הדמוקרטיה.

“This law was not meant to educate the general public towards politeness and manners. If the Knesset legislators want to have an influence on the public conversation culture, they are welcome to begin to do this in their homes, not harming the soul of our democracy.”

Shahar Ilan of The Marker, writes:

נציגת משרד המשפטים, עורך דין תמר קלהורה, הביעה התנגדות להצעת החוק של חסון. לדבריה, אין להשתמש באמצעי החקיקה הקיימים לגבי מדיום חדש כמו האינטרנט אלא יש לבנות לו כלי חקיקה חדשים כמקובל בעולם. הצעת משרד המשפטים היא שברגע שתתקבל תלונה על תוכן גולשים. טוקבק או כל תוכן אחר האתר המארח יפנה לכותב, אם הכותב יודיע שהוא מתכוון להגן על התוכן בבית משפט, התוכן לא יוסר, אם הכותב לא יעשה זאת התוכן יוסר.

Lawyer Tamar Kalhura, representative from the Ministry of Justice, conveyed her objection to Hasson's law proposal. She claims that the existing legislative methods must not be used on such a new medium as the internet. It is necessary to build new legislative tools, as is done around the world, she continues. The Ministry of Justice proposes the following solution – when a website receives a complaint on a talkback (comment) or any other (user generated) content, the hosting site will contact the writer. If the writer claims that he/she will protect the content in court, it will not be removed, otherwise if the content writer does not respond, it will be removed.

From this proposal, it is not clear how content provided by anonymous sources will be handled. Yonatan Klinger of 2jk writes:

The website owners got what they wanted, Hasson got his headlines (and removed his legislative whip), but the public, users who surf the web, came out losers. It was decided that within this framework of “self-regulation”, each website will decide its own comment-censoring policy, under the patronage of the Israeli Internet Association (which is, by the way, today's biggest winner) in order to protect the public from being exposed to the horrors of web-comments!… oh, the horrors!

Today's losers are the public. If up until now, comments on Israeli sites represented a form of public space – a city square which supported open conversation. From now on these conversations will depend upon the policy which each website decides to use.

Alisa describes Israeli “talkbalk” culture as important, but not always at its best:

Israel is a small country with a very vibrant political atmosphere. As everyone knows, every Jew, especially an Israeli one, has at least one opinion on any given issue, public or otherwise. Add to this the fact that we live in a somewhat interesting neighborhood, and that the issues we have to deal with are often just as interesting, and it is a small wonder that the advent of the Internet brought with it an explosion of various sites that deal with current affairs. But the really big explosion and the real action is in the commentary sections of these sites – the Talkbacks. The Talkbackists, as they have become known, are often the real stars, very often not in a good way.

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