‘Whatsapp law’ would ban rumor-mongering about terror deaths
Whatsapp has become an essential tool for groups to communicate, both personally and professionally – but when information leaks out of closed Whatsapp groups to social media, the effects can be very negative. In the recent terror attack at the Beit Panorama office building in south Tel Aviv, for example the family of Reuven Aviram, one of the victims of the terrorist who attacked worshippers at a makeshift synagogue, found out about his death after a message was passed around social media, complete with a video of his death.
MK Nissan Slomiansky, chairman of the Knesset of Constitutional and Law Committee, believes that it’s time to put a stop to the phenomenon – and has filed a law with the Knesset to outlaw rumor-mongering on social media; if the law passes, individuals who spread unconfirmed rumors on social media could be subject to heavy fines, and even criminal charges. News about the death of an individual, under the law, cannot be shared until and unless a public statement issued by either security forces or the family of a victim is released.
There have been numerous other incidents of social media, especially Whatsapp, prematurely revealing information on the death of someone in a terrorist incident. There have also been many incorrect rumors; for example, a rumor said that the son of opposition leader Yitzchak Herzog had been injured in a recent terror attack, a rumor what was eventuality proven to be false – but which took on a life of its own, worrying the supposed victim’s parents very badly, family friends said. The law would prohibit such activity as well.
With that, observers said that enforcing the law would be difficult; the nature of a rumor is that it starts “out there somewhere,” with an unidentified person usually starting the rumor. In addition, as Whatsapp is used by many rescue, police, and security groups to communicate vital information. It’s not clear how those groups will be able to send such information under the law, the observers said.