Facebook blocks Netanyahu chatbot, citing privacy violation

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Jerusalem (Reuters) – Facebook said on Monday it removed a post and suspended a messenger bot from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s page, after it posted that he wanted phone numbers to call and convince people to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

Netanyahu on Thursday posted a video on Twitter encouraging senior citizens to get vaccinated and ended with the line: “If you know someone who is nervous about getting vaccinated, send me their name and phone number, maybe they’ll get a surprise phone call from me and I’ll convince them.”

The Facebook bot posted a similar line to the prime minister’s page, which was later removed by Facebook over privacy concerns. The video was still up on Twitter.

“Under our privacy policy we do not allow content that shares or asks for people’s medical information,” said a Facebook spokeswoman. “We have removed the offending post and temporarily suspended the messenger bot, which shared this content, for breaking these rules.”

Netanyahu’s Likud party said that the aim of the post had been simply “to encourage Israelis over the age of 60 to get vaccinated in order to save their lives”.

Israel has become a world leader in vaccinating its population against COVID-19, which could give Netanyahu a boost ahead of a March 23 election.

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