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Israel, Twitter, and the Line Between Free Speech and Violence

Smoke rises following Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip--seen from the Israel Gaza Border, southern Israel, on Nov. 16, 2012.
Smoke rises following Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip--seen from the Israel Gaza Border, southern Israel, on Nov. 16, 2012. Photograph by Ariel Schalit/AP Photo

If you’ve been following the social-media campaign recently unleashed by the Israeli army on a multitude of platforms—from Twitter and Facebook to Instagram and Tumblr—as part of its attack on Hamas guerillas in the Gaza Strip, you know that we are seeing the birth of a whole new way of experiencing a war: in real time, and with live reports from the combatants themselves. But while some might argue that more information about such events is good, it also highlights just how much of our perception of such a conflict comes to us through proprietary platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and YouTube. What duties or responsibilities do they have (if any) to monitor or regulate that information?

One of the most obvious examples of this occurred very early in the attack, when the Israeli Defence Forces’ official Twitter account posted a tweet that warned Hamas leaders not to “show their faces above ground,” because the army was about to launch missiles into their area of the Gaza Strip. This arguably qualifies as a direct and specific threat of violence, which is against Twitter’s terms of service—but so far the tweet remains, and the IDF account has not been sanctioned (there were some reports that it had been suspended, but those appeared to involve another, unrelated account). In fact, the IDF account is marked as officially “verified” by Twitter.