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Palestine: Social Media in Conflict, Four Years On

Back in 2008, during Israel's attack on Gaza that left more than 1,400 (more than 700 of whom were civilians) dead, individuals the world over took to social media to comment on the attacks and the politics behind them.  Twitter, still a young platform at the time, served as the locus for debate, while other platforms including YouTube were used by state and non-state actors alike.  Even the Israeli Consulate of New York managed to get in on the action, hosting a press conference on Twitter.  All of this occurred amidst an Israeli media blackout on Gaza.

Four years later, the world — and the Internet — has changed.  The events of 2011 that took place in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and elsewhere have demonstrated the extent to which governments can control the Internet, as well as the challenges posed by relying on citizen reporting.  Now, as Israel once again unleashes a barrage of air strikes against Gaza's population, social media has become a secondary battlefield.

One point of discussion has been the relationship between state actors and social media platforms.  As Global Voices’ co-founder Rebecca MacKinnon has written, privately-owned platforms control much of our online speech, making decisions as to what is or is not appropriate based on their own proprietary guidelines.  This week, that subject is being discussed in relation to content posted by the Israeli Defence Forces, both on Twitter and YouTube.  @Mike_Orcutt tweets the following article from Wired:

A Youtube employee tells @dangerroom why the IDF's kill video hasn't been taken down http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/11/israeli-kill-vid/

The issue has arisen on Twitter as well; as the @IDFSpokesperson tweeted what, by all accounts, appears to be a threat, some have asked whether that violates the microblogging platform's terms of service. Nigâr Hacızade tweets:

war by social media is only possible if the platforms over which it's waged give their consent http://bit.ly/THxYlQ  

 

While Israel clearly has the military upper hand, many see them as losing online.  A game, released by the Israeli Defence Forces on its blog, “gamifies” killing, causing widespread disgust amongst activists and journalists alike; as Jon Mitchell of ReadWriteWeb told Time:

“Innocent people are dying on all sides, and the IDF wants to reward people for tweeting about it … It makes me sick.”

Richard Taylor comments:

Wonder how the IDF will gamify this… RT@farshidk: BBC journalist’s 11-mth-old son killed in Gaza strikes by Israel 

Another concern is that of Gaza's telecommunications infrastructure, which is inextricably linked to Israel's and is therefore vulnerable.  As Nadim Kobeissi tweeted:

An Internet shutdown in a Gaza under siege means stripping war victims from a global voice. Read @evacide‘s article:https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/11/social-media-internet-access-are-latest-weapons-israeli-palestinian-conflict

Anonymous has also gotten into the game, tweeting frequent updates:

Current Internet, telecommunication and death toll situation/status in #Gaza |#OpIsrael #Gaza |http://tmblr.co/ZNMTdvXOLg0b

 

At the time of publication, their website marked Gaza's telecom status thus:

Broadband: Limited, Intermittent
PBX Lines: DOWN
Mobile: UP
Ham Radio: DOWN
Satellite: Unkown
Electricity: DOWN, Current electricity by Generators

 

This time around, Reddit is also playing an important role in conflict.  At a time when finding reliable information from the ground is complicated, Al Jazeera correspondent Nadim Baba has taken to the platform for an “AMA” or “Ask Me Anything,” during which the subject is publicly questioned by Reddit users and can answer as they like. Baba has been asked—and has answered—dozens of questions about the ongoing attacks.

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