The Israeli Defense Force, the official military arm of the state of Israel, has launched a full-scale combat campaign against Hamas, the Islamist party which governs the Gaza Strip area of the Middle East. But instead of holding an official press conference, as is decorum for events as major as these, the IDF took a different tack.
It announced its campaign via Twitter.
The original tweet was sent out at approximately 7 a.m. Pacific standard time, announcing the “widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the #Gaza Strip, chief among them #Hamas & Islamic Jihad targets.”
You’ll note that whomever is at the helm of the account is savvy enough to use Twitter’s language of hashtags, one of the many ways users can follow trending topics across the 140-million-strong social network. As of approximately noon PT, Gaza, #Hamas and #Israel were all trending keywords across Twitter’s network.
It’s a fascinating case study into social media, and the ever evolving role that social channels have come to have in the political arena. Facebook and Twitter held major roles in the most recent U.S. general elections campaigns. And during the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia in 2010, Twitter was used as an organizational tool by protestors to hold demonstrations of civil resistance, ultimately playing a part in the toppling of multiple despotic regimes in the Arab region.
It seems, however, that the IDF is using social in a different way entirely. It is a veritable “Shock and Awe” online assault, using social channels to live-relay updates on the situation on the ground. Among the tweets are updates on the successful interception of enemy fire against Israeli troops, citations of Hamas-backed violence against Israel and updates on cites inside the Gaza Strip which Israeli forces have attacked.
Among the most jarring tweets, the IDF broadcast the elimination of one of its top Hamas targets, Ahmed Jabari (seen above), complete with a headshot and a list of his alleged offenses.
The IDF isn’t restricting its communications to Twitter. The organization is using other social channels as well, posting pictures of the attacks to its Flickr stream and status updates to its official Facebook Page.
There’s a larger question at hand here: The information the IDF is spreading on Twitter is coming in fast and furiously, but isn’t necessarily being verified in real-time. It is possible that the IDF could be spreading misinformation about its activities in a strategic move using digital communications.
Is this within the bounds of Twitter and Facebook Terms of Service? It’s difficult for me to tell. According to Twitter’s Rulebook, users are not permitted to “publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others,” nor are users allowed to use Twitter “for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities.” That includes tweets both foreign and domestic, as Twitter’s “International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content.”
At the same time, Twitter still reserves the right to remove any content published on its service at any time, in order to “protect the rights, property or safety of Twitter, its users and the public,” the company’s Terms of Service states.
Facebook’s ToS cites similar bylaws, telling users not to post content designed to incite violence or hate speech.
But the problem is, under what area do the IDF’s activities fall? Is Israel on sturdy ground if it restricts its Twitter activity to mere reportage of events happening on the ground? Should a tweet such as this — where the IDF advises Hamas leaders not to “show your faces above ground in the days ahead” — be considered a threat?
It’s unclear, and possibly falls under the domain of Twitter’s legal team, composed of privacy and free-speech heavy hitters Alex Macgillivray and the recently hired Nicole Wong. Wong in particular dealt with issues of International censorship during her time at Google’s YouTube property.
Is this a speech issue, or a safety issue? Will Twitter, Facebook and even Yahoo step in, or let this play out over the course of the IDF’s campaign?
Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo have not immediately responded to my requests for comment. Personally, I’m curious to see if the companies weigh in, or decide to keep out of it entirely.
Categorised as: Feedster
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