A Social Media Intifada
By Adina Rosenthal
Move over “Angry Birds.” The newest up-and-coming iPhone app may be for revolutions. While social media platforms have become commonplace in both our vernacular and daily use, they have also played an important role in fomenting recent revolutions.
In 2009, thousands took to the streets of Moldova to protest their Communist government in what was titled the Twitter Revolution for the platform’s success in galvanizing and organizing the public. When the Iranian government prevented journalists from reporting on the 2009 post-election protests, Iranians flocked to social media outlets to update the world on their plight. Recently, social media platforms took like wildfire in the Arab Spring, empowering people to unite and demand reform from their oppressive governments, resulting in immediate resignations, swift ousters, and, in the cases of Libya and perhaps Syria, war. According to panelists at an Arab Media Forum session in Dubai, “Whether social media led to the Arab Spring or facilitated it, it played a major role in mobilizing Arab streets as they rose against their ruling regime.”
Sitting right smack in the middle of the Arab Spring, Israel should receive a pat on the back for its involvement in the social media phenomenon. But for the country that created the technology behind AOL instant messenger, voicemail and the first high-resolution cell phone camera (not to mention a couple that have named their baby girl “Like,” after Facebook), Israel clearly has a hand in the social media trend. These beneficial innovations may be coming back to bite it in the tuchus.
For example, thousands of activists are members of “Boycott Israel” groups on Facebook. These forums are used to organize boycotts on products, encourage divestments from Israel, and incite hatred of Israel with graphic and violent imagery. Recently, a Facebook page titled, “Shakira: Say NO to apartheid and YES to Freedom For Palestine,” implored the pop singer, a UNICEF ambassador and advocate for quality education worldwide, to cancel a scheduled trip to Israel, to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference (she went anyway).
However, these boycotts seem innocuous compared to a recent iPhone application that called for a Third Intifada (“Uprising”) against the Jewish state. “The Third Intifada” app provided users with news about upcoming Palestinian protests, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic articles and information on the web, and activities that called for violence against Israel. Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, sent a letter to Apple founder, Steve Jobs, asking him to remove the app “and thus continue the tradition of Apple applications dedicated to purely entertainment and informative purposes and not serve as an instrument for incitement to violence.” Apple removed the app a week later, noting that it violated Apple’s store policy. Edelstein also successfully lobbied Facebook to remove the “Third Intifada” group last March.
Despite Israel’s success in removing the “Third Intifada” application, it still feels like Israelis are treading on a new battleground, the brink of an intifada of a different sort. A “Social Media Intifada,” to be exact. While not innately violent, such an intifada could potentially affect Israel’s economy and lead to violence, as recent events in the Middle East have proven. After the Second Intifada, Israeli tourism reached a twenty-year low, foreign investment slowed, and public perception of Israel faltered. How can Israel prevent a sequel on the social media battlefield?
Not always at the peak of its public relations game, Israel has recently focused additional resources on their PR strategy. Last summer, the Foreign Ministry was granted NIS 100 million to focus on social media, 60-70% of which would target leading social media figures as part of a new PR campaign to “cultivate Israel as a brand.” Additionally, Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, recently made an unprecedented move by enlisting the aid of European PR firms to combat Israel’s deteriorating image around the world. He explained that “with proper and professional work in the field we can significantly improve Israel’s standing and support for it.”
Additionally, Israelis and Jews from around the world are well-known for their social media prowess (just think Mark Zuckerberg) According to a recent poll, the average Israeli spends almost 11 hours a month surfing social networks, more than any other country in the world. From facebook groups that call for “buycotts” to purchase Israeli goods to an IDF twitter account, to boycotting rising prices on cottage cheese, Israel is no stranger to using social media to raise awareness, provide answers, and combat hate speech. Such social media savvy will be critical in countering anti-Israel rhetoric and creating a positive image for Israel. Israelis and Jews alike are up to the task.
So, in the spirit of Facebook: The social media trend? Like. Israel’s initiative to rebrand itself and counter hate speech? Like. The name of “Like” for a child? Not so much.