Social media and the Middle East collide again

In my September 2014 CompuSchmooze column in the Jewish Community Voice of Southern New Jersey, I write about an app and some social media issues that came up recently during the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

You can read the column on the Voice website.

We also reproduce it below.

Shortly after the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas forces in Gaza broke out, I was having coffee with Prof. Eric Weinstein at Starbucks, discussing his very interesting project at the University of Pennsylvania. He is involved in a massively online open course (MOOC) about the Percy Bysshe Shelley work, “Prometheus Unbound” (Information at

Screen shot of the Red Alert Israel app.
Screen shot of the Red Alert Israel app.

Our conversation strayed to Jewish studies topics, and a woman suddenly came over and said, “I could hear that you were Jewish, do you have this app that lets you know when rockets are being fired at Israel?” She went on to say how scary it was how often the app, called Red Alert Israel, set off an alert (  for iPhones, for Android phones).

So I downloaded the app onto my iPhone, and within a few minutes, I had to put the phone in “vibrate” mode, because so many Hamas rockets were raining down that the app was going off non-stop. Ashdod, Ashkelon, Tel Aviv, the warnings flashed by. They are still flashing by every day, and serve as a constant reminder of what Israelis are living with.

Meanwhile, over on Facebook, we were confronted with the specter of antisemitism on the rise, as Facebook permitted the creation of a page called “Death to the Jews.” Some folks flagged the page as offensive so Facebook would review it and remove it.

So imagine my surprise when I received notification from Facebook through its administrative dashboard that they had rejected my request to delete the page, because it did not violate Facebook’s community standards. Really? Facebook wants a community where pages advocating death to Jews are allowed?

Within a couple of hours, I had received an email, this time to my regular email, from Facebook, saying that the owner of the page had removed it. Then, shortly after that, I got yet another notification in the Facebook dashboard that said Facebook had reviewed the page and determined that it did in fact violate their standards and had been removed. The original message that the page did not violate those standards, meanwhile, had completely disappeared from the dashboard’s inbox. So we don’t really know if Facebook removed the page, or if the owner did—and Facebook is just trying to claim credit to avoid embarrassment from having allowed the page in the first place.

I queried Facebook’s PR department using the email address published on Facebook. Other than an automated response offering links to frequently asked questions, I’ve had no response from Facebook public relations.

Meanwhile, Facebook has yet to remove a page by a selfdescribed Turkish DJ who calls himself O uz Tugrul ((Death to the Jews).

Finally, some thoughts on the social media aspect of

Israel’s conflict with Hamas.

On balance, over the past several weeks of violence, it has seemed to me that Israel finally has learned how to integrate social media activity into its military operations, and seems to have gotten the upper hand in the social media aspects of conflict with Hamas.

Most of the world’s news media have picked up on factchecking by Israeli government and non-government sources, and Hamas has been repeatedly caught manipulating and threatening journalists, manufacturing inaccurate news stories, and even posing live extras as bodies in a morgue video where the bodies started moving before the camera was turned off.

Hamas even accused the BBC—often criticized by Israel’s supporters as being pro-Palestinian—of being too pro-Israel in its reporting.

Most of the news coverage seemed to include appropriate reminders that Hamas fighters were launching attacks on Israel from civilian locations including schools and hospitals, and I got a strong sense that most journalists understood that Israel has legitimate security concerns.

My iPhone is still vibrating regularly from the Red Alert Israel warnings, so we know the current conflict is far from over. But Israel’s supporters have been muscular and proactive in their online advocacy for Israel, and that’s an important activity in keeping the world focused on facts, not misrepresentations by Hamas.

Extra content:

We didn’t have space in the column to mention the other social media phenomenon coming out of the Middle East conflict. Apparently, in a poorly executed effort to employ social media to recruit more militants to sign up, Hamas created a rap music video with a singer urging listeners — in Hebrew — to join their battle with the refrain, “Up, do terrorism.” The video was distributed on YouTube and other video channels, but it turns out that the singer in the video didn’t speak Hebrew very well, and Israelis have been making fun of the video by taking over the song and making their own videos with it. It’s pretty funny seeing Israelis dancing, shopping, and generally enjoying life to the tun of a song calling for their destruction. It’s just about the perfect response. Here’s Tablet’s story about the video.

Unfortunately, the Israeli satire version of the Hamas video is no longer on YouTube. It’s apparently been removed because it violates YouTube’s community standards regarding “hate speech.” Ironic that YouTube would use that rule to muzzle what is very clearly a clever version of satire.


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