Twitter Warfare

by Andre Oboler

Israel has been attached [sic] in Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr. Eventually it had to happen... and in messages of 140 characters of less, now Twitter too is being used in public diplomacy against the Jewish state.

The use of conventional Twitter campaigning for political purposes is in the news. The BBC recently reported that the UK Labour Party is encouraging candidates to use Twitter, but also wanting to vet their posts to avoid any embarrassing slip ups. In all, 111 British MP’s are already using Twitter. Through the Twitter network they send messages that are picked up by fans, opponents and the media.

In Israel MKs, such as Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, are also making use of Twitter. So is the IDF’s spokesperson and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. What’s new, and likely to rapidly move from public diplomacy to election politics, are efforts to use Twitter to attack, satirise or demonise. Two fake profiles demonstrate the potential. The first, is a FakeDannyAyalon profile on twitter, is an example of political attacks. Using his real picture and a string of 79 posts, the profile spreads over-the-top messages in the Deputy Foreign Minister’s name. One expounds the rights of protestors to express themselves in Iran, going on to say those who do so in Israel should be shot. Another suggests a Palestinian Mandela must be found... so that he can be locked up. The second fake profile of interest is for NGO Monitor. NGO Monitor is the watchdog organisation that reports on human rights NGOs active in the Arab Israeli conflict.  This profile likewise makes over the top and self defeating statements. “‘Telling the truth is less important than defending Israel.’ Yes, EXACTLY! When will you learn?!” it reads. Another comment says “Remember: Everything we say = democratic debate, legitimate criticism. Everything they say = exploiting democracy for a political agenda”.

Ashley Perry and advisor to Danny Ayalon responded to our enquiries saying they were aware of FakeDannyAyalon on Twitter and that "imitation is the highest form of flattery". Mr Perry noted that public life leads to an expectation of critical debate and that this was welcome. “Danny joined Twitter to interact with the public and let them know what he is thinking and doing on a daily basis. So we welcome the public's responses, even through the use of satire.” He went on to note that, “The Deputy Foreign Minister welcomes the impact of social media and the ability to interact one on one with Israelis, Jews, supporters and critics around the world, either through Facebook, Twitter or YouTube webcasts.” Despite the interest from imitators, Danny Ayalon apparently soon launch a blog and an interactive website. One wonders if FakeDannyAyalon will be left by the wayside.

The fake profile for NGO Monitor is less blatant than that for Danny Ayalon. IT differs from NGO Monitor’s real account by only an under score. The posts also link to articles that debate and respond to NGO Monitor reports. The profile itself lists the Palestinian

Propaganda site Electronic Intifada as its home page. Electronic Intifada was previously exposed as being behind efforts to manipulate the Wikipedia community after they infiltrated and exposed efforts by CAMERA to encourage more people to become Wikipedia editors.

It’s taken a while, but finally twitter too has become a tool of online warfare. While Facebook bans the use of fake names, Twitter only prohibits Impersonation and Trademark violations. It remains to be seen how far satire can be used as a cover, and how good the satire must be to qualify. One this is certain, the online world is only growing in impact when it comes to politics and the international reputation of countries. Israel is starting to get online, but there is a long way still to go.

Dr. Andre Oboler is a social media expert and Director of the Community Internet Engagement Project. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from Lancaster University in the UK and spent a year as a Post Doctoral Fellow focusing on Online Public Diplomacy at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

© 2010 Andre Oboler, originally published by Community Internet Engagement Project, March 1st 2010. This article is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. You may repost it else where provided you post it in full and include this notice.

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