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.
Unsurprisingly, 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.”
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.”
The 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)