Facebook is being accused of censoring Palestinian activists who protest the Israeli occupation. This comes as Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked reportedly said in December that Tel Aviv had submitted 158 requests to Facebook over the previous four months asking it to remove content it deemed “incitement,” and said Facebook had granted 95 percent of the requests. We speak with Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Greenwald about his new report for The Intercept headlined “Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we’re spending the hour with Glenn Greenwald. His new report for The Intercept is about Facebook censorship. It’s titled “Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments.” In it, he writes that Facebook representatives met with the Israeli government to determine which Facebook accounts of Palestinians should be deleted on the grounds that they constituted, quote, “incitement.” Alternatively, Israelis have virtually free rein to post whatever they want about Palestinians, and calls by Israelis for the killing of Palestinians are commonplace on Facebook and largely remain undisturbed. That includes a recent Facebook campaign calling for vengeance against Arabs in retribution for the killing of three Israeli teenagers.
AMY GOODMAN: All of this follows President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and as the Israeli right-wing’s push now to doom any attempt at a two-state solution. Today’s New York Times reports, quote, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party for the first time has urged the annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the nation’s top legal officers pressed to extend Israeli law into occupied territory. In addition, the Israeli Parliament, after a late-night debate, voted early Tuesday to enact stiff new obstacles to any potential land-for-peace deal involving Jerusalem.” Again, that’s in The New York Times today.
Well, for more, we continue our conversation with Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and founding editor of The Intercept. So, your piece is headlined “Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments.” Can you explain exactly which accounts are being deleted and how you found this out?
GLENN GREENWALD: Sure. So, within the last week, Facebook deleted the Facebook account and the Instagram account—Facebook is the owner of Instagram—of the president of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a pretty monstrous tyrant. I don’t think there’s much doubt about that. There are very credible reports that he’s at least acquiescing to, if not presiding over, the mass detention and torture and, in some cases, killing of LGBTs within his republic. He has killed and kidnapped and tortured political dissidents. He basically has free rein over the republic, although he ultimately reports to Moscow, but he has, essentially, autonomy over how to run the Chechen Republic. He’s an awful tyrant. There’s no doubt about that.
So, when Facebook decided suddenly to delete the accounts of the head of the state, who had a total of 4 million followers, they didn’t say, “The reason we’re doing it is because he’s an awful tyrant,” who has done all the things I just said. What they said was, “The reason we did it is because he was placed on a list that the United States government State Department manages and the Treasury Department manages, in which he is now the target of sanctions, which means that, under the law, we, Facebook, are obligated to obey the dictates of the United States government and no longer allow him to use our services.”
Now, this rationale is sort of dubious. There are other people who are on the same list, like the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, and many of his top officials, who continue to use Facebook quite actively. But what the rationale actually means, if you think about it, is that the U.S. government, according to Facebook, now has the power to dictate to Facebook who it is who’s allowed to use that platform to communicate with the world, and who will be blocked and who will be banned. And, you know, you can take the position, on the one hand, that Facebook is a private company, and it has the right to determine who uses its platform, which is true. The First Amendment technically doesn’t apply to Facebook. But Silicon Valley giants have become so powerful and massive—I would say, in particular, Google, Facebook and Apple—that they’re really much more akin now to public utilities, to almost their own private nation-states, than they are to just average corporations that have competition and the like, so that the power to eliminate somebody from Facebook is almost the power to eliminate them from the internet.
And to hear Facebook say it’s the U.S. government, the Trump administration, that has the power to tell us who will use Facebook and who can’t is extremely chilling, especially since already last year they proved that they were willing to do the same thing when it came to the Israeli government. As you just mentioned, Amy, there’s an article in The New York Times today detailing that the Israeli right, which basically is the dominant faction in Israel, is finally being open about the fact that their real goal is not a two-state solution or a peace process, but is the annexation of the West Bank. And these politicians who are now openly advocating this are the same ones who summoned Facebook executives in October of last year to a meeting and directed them to delete the accounts of a huge number of Palestinian activists, journalists, commentators. And Facebook obeyed in almost every one of the cases, even though, as you indicated, Israelis remain free to say the most heinous and awful things about Palestinians, including an incitement.
So you see Facebook now collaborating with the most powerful governments on the planet—the Israelis and the Americans, in particular—to determine who is allowed to speak and who isn’t and what messages are allowed to be conveyed and which ones aren’t. And it’s hard to think of anything more threatening or menacing to internet freedom and the promise of what the internet was supposed to be than behavior like this.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Glenn, is there any indication of the people, the Palestinians who were targeted by the Israeli government, that any of them were under U.S. sanctions, there was any reason for the United States to support this? Or was this basically an Israeli government-Facebook conflict, where the Israeli government insisted, if Facebook wanted to continue operating within Israel and the Occupied Territories, that it would have to do this?
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, it was basically just pure bullying and coercion on the part of the Israeli government. What they did was they said to Facebook, “We are going to enact a law that requires you to delete the accounts of the—whatever accounts our government identifies as guilty of incitement. And the only way that you can avoid us enacting this law”—and this law was going to say Facebook’s failure to obey will result in massive fines and ultimately could result in the blocking of Facebook in Israel, the way that China blocks Facebook and other companies that don’t comply with its censorship orders. “The only way,” the Israeli government said to Facebook, “that you can avoid this law is if you voluntarily obey the orders that we give you about who should be deleted.” And Facebook, whether because they were driven by business interests of not wanting to lose the Israeli market, or ideology, that they support the Israeli viewpoint of the world, which ever one of those motives might be driving them, or whatever mixture of motives, complied with the Israeli demands.
And I think this is really the critical point that I hope everybody listening thinks about, is there is this growing movement now on the left, in Europe and in the United States, to support censorship as a solution to this kind of growing far-right movement: “Well, let’s just ask and plead with Silicon Valley executives to keep fascists offline, or let’s hope our government will not allow fascists to speak.” And aside from the fact that I think it’s incredibly counterproductive, because, generally, when you try and censor movements, you only make them stronger, the premise of this idea, as we can see in this case, is really warped. I mean, the idea that Silicon Valley executives or U.S. government officials are going to use censorship power to help and protect marginalized groups, I think, is absurd. In almost every case when we see these entities using censorship powers, they’re using them to target marginalized groups and serve the most powerful. That’s why Facebook blocks Palestinians but not Israelis, because Palestinians have no power, and Israelis do. And the more we empower these entities to censor, the more we’re going to be endangering marginalized groups, because, ultimately, that’s who’s going to end up being suppressed.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Glenn Greenwald, you had this amazing moment in the House and the Senate recently, the hearings with the heads of Google and Twitter and Facebook, where you had this demand on the part of the Republicans and the Democrats for censorship, the Democrats using the pretext of Russia, saying, “Why didn’t you delete these accounts?”
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah. I mean, this idea that somehow our political salvation rests in placing into the hands of these already obscenely powerful Silicon Valley executives the further power, which they don’t even want to have, to determine what political messages are allowed to be heard on the internet and which ones aren’t, to determine who is allowed to communicate on the internet and who isn’t, is incredibly menacing.
Just last week, Twitter promulgated a new policy, in response to exactly the kind of demands, Amy, that you were just describing. And this is their policy. They said you are no longer allowed to use Twitter to advocate or incite violence, except if you want the violence to be done by governments or military. So, you’re allowed to go on Twitter now and say, “I demand that the U.S. government nuke North Korea out of existence.” You’re allowed to go on Twitter and say, “I want the Israeli government to incinerate every person in Gaza.” But what you’re not allowed to do is to go on Twitter and say, “As a Muslim, I believe that it’s the responsibility of Muslims to fight back against aggression,” or, “As a North Korean, I want to be able to defend against imperialism.”
So, under the guise of begging Silicon Valley to save us from bad political speech, what has actually happened is that the most powerful factions are empowered to say whatever they want, and the least powerful factions are the ones who end up censored. And that’s always, no matter how well intentioned it is, the result of these kind of calls for censorship.
AMY GOODMAN: And in the end of your piece, you talk about: “[W]ould Facebook ever dare censor American politicians or journalists who use social media to call for violence against America’s enemies?” Answer that question, Glenn Greenwald..
GLENN GREENWALD: Right. So, if you look at, for example, Facebook’s rationale for why they censored the president of the Chechen Republic, they said, “We had to do it because he was put on a list of people who were sanctioned by the U.S. government.” Well, just last month, the Iranian government issued a list of sanctions that included a whole bunch of Canadian officials. The Russian government has issued lists of people who were sanctioned that includes U.S. businesspeople and U.S. officials, as well. Obviously, in a million years, Facebook would never honor the sanctions lists of the Russian government or the Iranian government and remove U.S. officials or Canadian businesspeople. It’s purely one-sided. It’s only serving the dictates of powerful governments.
And, you know, you can go onto Twitter or you can go onto Facebook pretty much every single day and see calls for extreme amounts of violence to be directed against Iranians, to be directed against people in Gaza or the West Bank, to be directed against people in the Muslim world. And obviously Facebook and Twitter are never going to remove that kind of incitement to violence, because that’s consistent with the policy of Western governments. The only people who are going to be removed are people who are otherwise voiceless, who are opposed to Western foreign policy. And that’s why it’s so ill-advised, so dangerous, no matter how well intentioned, to call for Silicon Valley executives or the U.S. government to start censoring and regulating the kind of political speech we can hear and can express.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Glenn, I wanted to turn to a topic that you’ve written quite a bit about, the ongoing Mueller investigation over possible collusion between the Trump administration and Russia in attempting to influence the 2016 election. And you’ve been especially critical of how the corporate and commercial media have dealt with this issue, especially the now-debunked supposed exposé that CNN issued several months ago about an email that seemed to prove that collusion. Could you talk about that and how you’re seeing this, as we’re heading into 2018 and the continued development of the Mueller investigation?
GLENN GREENWALD: Sure. So, I think a couple of things are important to point out, which is that, from the beginning, I think everybody—I certainly include myself in this and everybody that I’ve read and heard—has always said that it’s obviously possible that the Russian government was the primary culprit when it came to the hacking of the emails of John Podesta and the DNC. It’s certainly something that the United States and the Russians do to one another and have done to one another for decades, and so nobody should put it past Putin or the Russians to have done it in this case. And it’s certainly also possible that there were people in the Trump campaign who became aware after the fact that this was done and who somehow helped to decide how this information was going to be disseminated.
But I think, given the implications that this issue has, in terms, number one, of the relationship between two extremely dangerous nuclear-armed powers, which is Moscow and Washington, who, on many occasions in the past, have almost obliterated the planet through an exchange of nuclear weapons, and who are, in many places in the world, at loggerheads with one another, as well as the climate in Washington, in which any kind of interaction with Russians now becomes something that is a ground for suspicion—what I’ve always said is that we have to be very careful, as journalists and as citizens, to make sure that we don’t get ahead of ourselves in terms of the claims that we’re making, that we have to adhere to the evidence that is available, before we decide that official claims from the CIA and the NSA and the FBI, agencies with a long history of lying and deceit and error—before we accept them as true.
And one of the things that we’ve seen over the past year or year and a half is large media outlets, in case after case after case after case, acting very recklessly, publishing stories that turned out to be completely false, that needed to be retracted, that got discredited, which is the thing that then enables Donald Trump to try and encourage people not to trust the media. So, no matter your views on Russia—and I think it’s really dangerous that the U.S. and Russian relations are probably at their worst point as they’ve been since the fall of the Soviet Union, something that nobody should think is a good thing—despite all the claims that Trump was going to serve the interests of the Russians, the reality is, the two countries are at great tensions. No matter your views on that, I think that we all have an interest in making sure that our political discourse and that our media reports are grounded in reality and fact. And while Mueller, thus far, has produced four separate indictments, they all have been for either lying to the FBI or for money laundering. None of them have alleged any actual criminal collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. And so, what I have said all along, and what I still say, is that we ought to let an investigation proceed 'til the end, look at all of the evidence, and only then reach conclusions about what happened, because it's very dangerous to use supposition and speculation and all kind of guesswork to make accusations that can have really serious consequences. And I think we’ve seen the dangers of that over the last year.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to this issue of collusion with Russia, that was also a key focus in President Trump’s recent, rare interview with reporter Michael Schmidt of The New York Times, which took place in the Grill Room of Trump’s golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida. Near the beginning of the interview, Trump launched into a discussion about Russian collusion. The Times quotes Trump as saying, quote, “Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion. There is no collusion. And even these committees that have been set up, if you look at what’s going on—and in fact, what it’s done is, it’s really angered the base and made the base stronger. My base is stronger than it’s ever been. Great congressmen, in particular, some of the congressmen have been unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is. So, I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion. And by the way, I didn’t deal with Russia. I won because I was a better candidate by a lot.” Trump goes on to repeatedly say, throughout the interview, “There was no collusion.” If you can talk about what he says, and talk about his attacks on Mueller? I mean, some say, if he would leave Mueller alone, Mueller will ultimately vindicate him.
GLENN GREENWALD: So, theres’ a lot going on there. So, first of all, Trump’s statement that all Democrats acknowledge there’s no collusion is just a typical Trump lie. There are all kinds of Democrats—in fact, most Democrats—who say that they believe there was collusion. What he is right about, though, is that none of them thus far have presented evidence of collusion. And there’s a point in the interview where he says he saw Dianne Feinstein last month on television admitting that there’s no evidence of collusion. That’s not actually what she said. But it is really instructive to go and watch Dianne Feinstein, who is the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, who gets regular briefings from the CIA about the evidence. She did go on CNN last month and was asked a series of questions about whether she’s seen evidence about a whole variety of theories of collusion, and she essentially said, “No, I’ve never seen any of that evidence.” She went on CNN in May and explicitly said, after a CIA briefing, that she’s not aware of any evidence of actual collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Now, you have, in this interview, Trump doing what he does, which is constantly lying about what Democrats have said, about the nature of the investigation. I think his attacks on Mueller are incredibly stupid, for the reason that you said, although, hopefully, Mueller, if he’s the professional that everyone says he is, won’t be affected by those attacks, he’ll simply follow the evidence.
But I think what’s really going on here, Amy, is this, and this is such an important point: If you look at how our political media works, the part of the political media that is partisan, the way that the right-wing media really grew was during the Clinton years, when people like Rush Limbaugh and the Drudge Report and, ultimately, Fox News fed on scandal after scandal after scandal, of Whitewater and Vince Foster, and then, ultimately, the Ken Starr investigation. And then you had the Fox News growing even more during the Obama years with all kinds of fake scandals. And what you see now is large parts of the media—MSNBC and lots of liberal websites—growing exponentially by constantly not talking about Trump’s dangerous foreign policy or his rollback of regulations or his ignoring of climate—the things that actually matter—but this obsession on the Russia scandal. And they’re getting great benefits from it. And so, that’s what happens, is we have this Balkanized media that feeds the audiences whatever it is that they want to hear, without any journalistic standards. And so the incentive is to constantly inflate and exaggerate and make it as sensationalistic as possible. And people are eating it up, to the profit of these media outlets. And I think that’s a lot of what’s going on here. And in some sense, when Trump says it’s energizing his base, he’s right. It’s essentially dividing America between “I hate Donald Trump, and therefore will believe everything about Russia that I hear” versus “I love Donald Trump, and I’ll believe nothing.” And it’s just sort of intensifying these divisions.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with him in a minute.