A couple of weeks ago an Israeli law firm made the headlines, threatening to sue Twitter for allowing “foreign terrorist organizations” to use the social network. Now, according to Al Jazeera, the Electronic Intifada (EI) has uncovered a program which is believed to pay Israeli university students for their contributions to social networks in general, in an effort to combat anti-Semitism on the Internet.
According to the EI’s findings the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) has turned to social media as a means of speaking out against hate-speech targeting Israel and Jews. A NUIS document in Hebrew, translated into English by the EI reads:
“The Internet…is used as a major tool for the dissemination of anti-Semitism, hatred of Israel and of Jews and thus the Internet is also the place to battle against such sites, pull the ground from under them and to provide reliable and balanced information.”
To do this, the NUIS established the Schacham Scholarship, which pays students $2,000, to work for 5 hours a week from home. The document goes on to describe the nature of the work:
In the present reality, in which the Internet has become a key tool in spreading anti-Semitism, and given that most students use this medium, it is requested that Israeli students will be the ones to lead the battle against hostile websites.
The following proposed scholarships will allow students to map the anti-Semitic websites and to deal with what is said on them. During the project students can work on social networks to refute misinformation comprehensively available throughout this medium.
NUIS has taken social media marketing and has applied it to politics, which in some circles, simply translates to propaganda. NUIS itself uses the expression Hasbara, which is described as:
“Efforts to explain government policies and promote Israel in the face of what they consider negative press (or delegitimation) about Israel around the world. Others view hasbara as a euphemism for propaganda.”
Jillian York writes for Al Jazeera that while the program does not come directly under the Israeli government’s wing, it is a project that has been established in cooperation with them.
We have watched some governments in the region struggle with the use of social media. On the other side of the pond, politicians like US President Obama, certainly have their pulse on the social media network, with a presence on every major network you can imagine including Instagram and Google+.
The NUIS seems to be resorting to tactics not unlike the ones that Bahrain is suspected of using. Bahrain is believed to have taken a two-pronged approach, trolling Twitter, while also employing polished public relations execs to clean up the country’s social media. while Syria has a team of hackers retaliating against Anonymous’ attacks on Syria’s governmental sites. Israel is now seen using students to spread a specific message online.
Social media is, and will continue to be, a battle ground in the Middle East, and beyond. We’ve even witnessed surreal sparring matches on Twitter between NATO’s ISAF account and the Taliban. But when money trades hands for a pro-government message, can it be seen in any other light than paid-propaganda?