Facebook suspended a chatbot operated by the official page of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday morning after it spread a message saying Arab politicians “want to annihilate us all.”The social network cited a violation of its hate speech policies in suspending the automated chatbot for 24 hours.“After careful review of the Likud campaign’s bot activities, we found a violation of our hate speech policy. We also found that the bot was misusing the platform in the time period allowed to contact people. As a result, we temporarily suspended the bot for 24 hours. Should there be any additional violations, we will continue to take appropriate action,” a Facebook spokesperson told VICE News.
This week, Netanyahu’s Likud party launched an online campaign to try to stop the formation of a left-wing government that would partner with Arab-Israeli lawmakers.Users who visited Netanyahu's Facebook page were greeted with an automatic pop-up message that warns of the dangers of the establishment of a left-wing government composed of "Arabs who want to annihilate us all — women, children and men.READ: How the Trump-Netanyahu bromance could backfire on IsraelUnsurprisingly, it sparked widespread condemnation.The head of the Arab Joint List party, Ayman Odeh, brought the chatbot to Facebook’s attention, labeling Netanyahu a “psychopath.”Odeh welcomed the chatbot’s suspension on Thursday.“Yesterday we went directly to Facebook and demanded that they stop giving a platform to Netanyahu’s dangerous incitement and today we are seeing the results.”READ: Netanyahu's desperate campaign promise would 'bury any chance of peace'The party attempted to dismiss the criticism of the incendiary language as a “mistake by a campaign worker,” adding that Netanyahu had not approved the campaign materials.“Prime Minister Netanyahu did not see these things, did not approve them, does not agree with them, and opposes them,” a Likud statement said Wednesday when the comments were first reported. “When the content was brought to his attention, he asked that it be taken down immediately.”In a radio interview Thursday, Netanyahu again distanced himself from the controversy, saying: “I have friends in Arab countries and have respect for all people.”
READ: Netanyahu just put up a giant gold 'Trump' sign in the Golan HeightsThe suspension comes after a fraught 48 hours for Netanyahu, who pledged Tuesday to annex a large chunk of the occupied West Bank if he wins re-election this month.The promise was met with a furious backlash in the Arab world, with many predicting it would signal the end of any hope of peace in the region.
Cover: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting, at his office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (Abir Sultan/Pool)