A lot of the discussion and debate about the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been taking place on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sources.
In light of that, I think it’s important for people to know that social media is by no means immune to government propaganda. Far from it in fact.
Back in August of last year, a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that the Israeli government would be giving scholarships to college students who, “engage international audiences online” by posting pro-Israel tweets/statuses etc. online.
“This is a groundbreaking project aimed at strengthening Israeli national diplomacy and adapting it to changes in information consumption,”
the statement said.
Students at each university are organized into units. At the top is the chief-coordinator, who gets a full scholarship. Under the chief-coordinator are three “desk coordinators” in charge of language, graphics and research who receive lesser scholarships. Then there are student “activists” who receive, “minimal scholarships”.
The program is run by Danny Seamen, an Israeli public diplomacy official who drew the ire of Muslims in the region when he posted the following status on his personal Facebook page:
“Does the commencement of the fast of the Ramadan mean that Muslims will stop eating each other during the daytime?”
Despite the fact that Israeli officials condemned the status, calling it “unacceptable” and saying that it didn’t, “reflect the position of the Israeli government,” Seaman somehow still ended up in charge of the social media propaganda campaign.
Prime Minister Netanyahu praised the volunteer social media recruits in a video conference shortly after the announcement. He said,
“We are (operating) on four fronts: The military front, the home front, the diplomatic front and the public diplomacy front… We must fight for the truth, for the facts, and your help is worth more than gold … refuting the industry of lies.”
It’s not the first time that the Israeli government did something like this. Just a year earlier, a Palestinian blog reported that Israeli students were being paid $2,000 for posting pro-Israel messages online for five hours a week.
I agree whole-heartedly with Netanyahu that we must “fight for the truth” and “refute the industry of lies”. But you don’t do that by bribing college kids to post pro-government sound-bites, and you definitely don’t do it by putting a man in charge who has proven he cares more about inciting anger and hate than he does about spreading truth.
Read the original story from the AP here.