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Israel, Twitter, and the Line Between Free Speech and Violence

Science & Tech  (tags: 'CIVILLIBERTIES!', 'HUMANRIGHTS!', conflict, ethics, NewTechnology, investigation, internet, society, technology, world, concept, news, military, terrorism, war, dishonesty, crime, ethics, freedoms, israel, media, palestine, violence, war, HumanRights, 'H )

- 2343 days ago -
If you've been following the social-media campaign recently unleashed by the Israeli army on a multitude of platforms--from Twitter and Facebook (FB) to Instagram and Tumblr--as part of its attack on Hamas guerillas in the Gaza Strip,


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JL A (281)
Sunday November 18, 2012, 8:04 am

Bloomberg Businessweek
Israel, Twitter, and the Line Between Free Speech and Violence

Posted on GigaOm
By Mathew Ingram on November 16, 2012

If you’ve been following the social-media campaign recently unleashed by the Israeli army on a multitude of platforms—from Twitter and Facebook (FB) to Instagram and Tumblr—as part of its attack on Hamas guerillas in the Gaza Strip, you know that we are seeing the birth of a whole new way of experiencing a war: in real time, and with live reports from the combatants themselves. But while some might argue that more information about such events is good, it also highlights just how much of our perception of such a conflict comes to us through proprietary platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and YouTube (GOOG). What duties or responsibilities do they have (if any) to monitor or regulate that information?

One of the most obvious examples of this occurred very early in the attack, when the Israeli Defence Forces’ official Twitter account posted a tweet that warned Hamas leaders not to “show their faces above ground,” because the army was about to launch missiles into their area of the Gaza Strip. This arguably qualifies as a direct and specific threat of violence, which is against Twitter’s terms of service—but so far the tweet remains, and the IDF account has not been sanctioned (there were some reports that it had been suspended, but those appeared to involve another, unrelated account). In fact, the IDF account is marked as officially “verified” by Twitter.

So far, Twitter hasn’t responded to a request for comment on how it is handling the Israeli conflict and the fact that it is playing out live on the network—complete with photos of rocket attacks, burned-out buildings, and even dead bodies (I’ll update this post if and when Twitter responds). The company has often spoken of its responsibility as the “free-speech wing of the free-speech party,” but for the most part that has involved promoting the rights of individual users in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street protests, not the interests of governments and armies.

Arguably, Israel would be well within its rights to ask Twitter to remove or censor tweets by Hamas, which is defined by the Israeli government as a terrorist organization. If Twitter has selectively censored tweets by Nazi sympathizers after a request from the German government—using the new powers it introduced earlier this year—how would it justify not giving Israel the same ability to block Hamas tweets or filter them based on certain geographical limits?

And it’s not just Twitter, of course: The Israeli army has been uploading videos of rocket attacks to YouTube as the campaign has been unfolding, and some are fairly graphic—including one that blew up a car carrying the head of the Hamas military wing. That video was removed Thursday morning by YouTube, and it appeared that the site might have decided it breached their terms of service, but then the company said it had removed the video by mistake, and it was reinstated.

Threats of violence and shocking images are also something that Facebook has been known to remove, but for now at least the network says it won’t be removing content posted by the Israeli Defense Forces—which includes an app that curates photos from Instagram, many of which the army said were taken on the ground during its attack on the Gaza Strip.

But according to Mike Isaac of All Things Digital, the Facebook spokesperson he heard from didn’t say why the content from the Israeli Defense Forces was being left up, or under what circumstances it might be taken down—leaving open the question of what Facebook would see as offensive content in the context of a war. And that reinforces the same problem that has arisen before with Facebook and other similar social networks as platforms for speech: Namely, they are effectively a series of black boxes when it comes to decision-making around what gets removed.

When YouTube removed the initial IDF video, it wasn’t clear whether that was an editorial decision or one made in error by an algorithm. When Facebook deletes accounts belonging to Arab women who are fighting for their rights, it isn’t surprising that this is seen by some as censorship, even when it might just be an errant algorithm. And while Google (GOOG) and Twitter both put up lists of the requests they get from officials, the reality is that they remove or filter out plenty of content and never mention it. And when Google selectively blocks a video such as The Innocence of Muslims, there is no court of appeal that will hear arguments about that decision.

So while it’s a great thing to have all these sources of information—assuming that you believe more information is better, even if it is coming from the communications branch of the army—it is almost all being hosted by proprietary services (although the IDF also has an active blog where it has been posting live updates and even infographics). And while they have all expressed their commitment to free speech in some form or another, they have absolutely no obligation to uphold that, or to tell users when information has been removed, or why.

We may have disrupted our old information gatekeepers—newspapers, television, even governments—but in many ways we have just exchanged them for shiny new ones. And they are just as inscrutable, if not more so.


Roger G (148)
Sunday November 18, 2012, 12:11 pm
noted, thanks !

Thomas P (275)
Sunday November 18, 2012, 5:42 pm
Noted....thanks J.L.

JL A (281)
Sunday November 18, 2012, 5:51 pm
You are welcome Thomas.

. (0)
Monday November 19, 2012, 6:32 am
Oh and Hamas and Hezbollah aren't guilty of the same thing? I feel sorry for the rank and file civilians who suffer daily due to the intransigence of Hamas leaders. They place their mortar and rocket batteries next to mosques; on top of schools and hospitals. They aren't above using the populace as human shields or as collateral damage to create a media op. Frankly I'm amazed that the Israelis have shown so much restraint over the years. If they wanted to they could crush Gaza within thirty days.
There are no winners in war. It is bad for the overall planetary environment and every one of its constituents. The religious factions whether they are hard line Muslims; Chiliastic evangelicals or any other messianic religious stripe don't care. God has told them they are right and that the unbelievers must be destroyed at any cost. They believe they don't have to care about the planet because some god or avatar is going to come down and put everything right for the elect. Anyone who believes that is in for a very rude awakening.

Stephen Brian (23)
Monday November 19, 2012, 9:00 pm
This is nothing new: Palestinians have been engaging in such a media-campaign for years. In fact, it has been a central part of the militias' strategic-scale defence-doctrine for decades. They cannot push Israel away from their bases of operations militarily, so when Israel launches an offensive, they run a media-campaign to put international pressure on Israel to withdraw. Later, it tends to come out that a lot of the reports which drove the pressure were faked, but by then the offensive is already over. This has been the pattern with every Israeli offensive since at least the 1990s (when I started following the events directly).

It's a result of foreign meddling in the conflict: Establishing peace around Israel was supposed to be the great test of peacekeeping and the U.N.'s ability to settle conflicts. Between that, oil, and the cultural significance of the area, many powerful countries, far more powerful than any actually present in the area, have regularly come under domestic pressure to take a moral stand. Gaining or losing such allies substantially shifts the balance of power and influences relative strength in negotiations as much as the facts on the ground which result from battles. That makes the media, which tells people in those powerful countries that the moral stand is with one side or the other, a genuine battleground in the war.

I wish we could just have neutral, honest news-coverage, but that has always been the exception, not the norm.

JL A (281)
Monday November 19, 2012, 9:25 pm
"I wish we could just have neutral, honest news-coverage, but that has always been the exception, not the norm. " I fear this statement of yours is becoming ever truer everywhere in the world Stephen.

Jennifer Ward (40)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 2:21 pm
The Palestinians have been doing this forever. So much so that the Palestinian propaganda is now the perceived wisdom. Don't go into the kitchen if you can't stand the heat guys. Everybody is fed up with the Palis playing the victim all the time.

JL A (281)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 2:53 pm
Phyllis, the point of the article is not the who is doing it but rather the issues raised by the set of actions--substitute the names of the who if you wish and see if the focus on the issue becomes easier. The information highway has been transformed, including how war news is sent and received and intended audience.

Kit B (276)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 3:02 pm

This is the new "news" though it was used well by many during the Egyptian revolution, it does have more than a smattering of bias. I don't know if this has been removed but...just before this began IDF and Hamas were twittering the kind of comments back and forth that one might expect of drunken fraternity boys. As for people playing the role of victim, there is more than enough room for that. All of the children are the victims of this, another war of adventure, by both sides.

. (0)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 3:04 pm
We are now to look at Twitter for world events? Have we gotten so lax, uncaring, uninformative to not listen to the media? Granted, there are other issues there too.

JL A (281)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 3:08 pm
Thanks for adding to the history on this issue Kit. Your question has merit Allan--do people want more than brief statements for their news?

Stephen Brian (23)
Wednesday November 21, 2012, 6:57 pm
Hi Kit :)

Those tweets sounds very interesting. Do you know if they may have been saved somewhere, maybe a site that automatically archives tweets from certain sources? (I am almost certain that quite a few intelligence-agencies do that for sources like tweeters like these, but somehow I doubt their databases are public.) I tried a quick Google-search, but turned up nothing.

Kit B (276)
Wednesday November 21, 2012, 7:54 pm

Sure, join twitter and then ask for the archived tweets about the build-up to this recent war. As I said, they may have been removed. I read and delete, doesn't everyone? Tweets happen all day from all over the world, you would need to following some one or some issue to know what is being tweeted.

I wonder what is the grammar rule on tweet, tweeter, tweets, tweeted and twits? (yes, sarcasm intended)

JL A (281)
Wednesday November 21, 2012, 7:57 pm
Thanks for responding to Stephen's question Kit!

Kit B (276)
Wednesday November 21, 2012, 7:59 pm

Those twitter comments would be *expletive deleted* on most sites.

Stephen Brian (23)
Wednesday November 21, 2012, 11:38 pm
Thanks Kit :)

I try to limit the number of ways that people expect to be able to contact me. I resisted joining Facebook until there was someone I really had to contact immediately, had no other method available, and heard he was on Facebook. It turned out he wasn't, but within an hour of my signing up people had started sending me messages and expected to continue to be able to do so. I think I'll try to avoid joining Twitter for as long as I can.

JL A (281)
Thursday November 22, 2012, 9:29 am
Stephen, it is possible some of those comments were in Arabic or Hebrew as if you don't know the languages well, the value could be further diminished.
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