Free Speech, Hate Speech, Inciting Racial Violence: Facebook group declares July 9 “Kill a Jew Day”

July 9, 2010 has been declared “Kill a Jew” day on Facebook and had over 70 confirmed attendees to the event before it was taken down today. A handful answered “maybe” and hundreds filed reports and complaints against the creator of the site. According to a screen shot of the Facebook page that displayed the symbol of the Nazi party, the killing would take place between 12 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. and the event description read, “You must kill at least one Jew.”

According to the blog Atlas Shrugs, the creator of the event lives in Singapore.

The Jewish Internet Defense Force swiftly responded to the Facebook event by issuing an action statement requesting the millions of Facebook users to report the site. Within 12 hours, the page was taken down and JIDF obtained hyperlinks to all of those who joined the group either to attend the event or “as a joke.”

David Appletree, founder of the Jewish Internet Defense Force, released a statement of concern about the length of time it takes Facebook to block or shut down pages that incite violence or racism. While Facebook acknowledges First Amendment rights to free speech, those who call for the killing of someone can be held liable in criminal court if the crime, in this case, murder, is committed.

“Despite thousands of people reporting helping to report the material in a coordinated fashion by the JIDF, Facebook rarely took any action to remove the content, which was blatantly against Facebook’s Terms of Service.  It was only after we started getting international mainstream media attention that Facebook started to react to our work, but it would still take weeks and sometimes months for Facebook to respond,” he said in the statement.

As of now, the Facebook page is still down and those involved have not faced any legal action. Follow developments at JIDF’s Facebook page.

A few questions arise when looking at such a report: We who study communications law understand the significance of free speech in publications and now in social media. However, with free speech comes the opportunity for those with hate to spread that hate. The question then becomes: when can you take legal action against racism and hatred and when do you have to conquer it other ways?

In this situation, from what I understand, calling for the death of a specific group is a crime and those who are behind the page can be held accountable if any Jewish people are killed on July 9 who signed up for the page. Technically, the creators are aiding in the murder by calling for it and organizing a specific event around murder. In terms of free speech, however, I’m not sure if this would be considered hate speech, fighting words, or someone’s beliefs that are unfortunately protected.

Another big issue comes up with this case, and it involves Facebook’s response to hate content on its site. While Facebook has the grueling responsibility of going through millions upon millions of profiles, it also has the responsibility to respond to pages that are reported. Appletree seems to think that Facebook does not respond quickly enough to antisemitic pages nor does it enforce the removal of hate speech. My question is whether or not Facebook CAN take down hateful pages unless the pages are crossing the lines of libel or aiding in a criminal act? And is it Facebook’s obligation to do so, or is it the Facebook community’s responsibility to push out the haters through anti-racism posts and movements?

I’d love to talk to a communications lawyer about social media and hate speech.