Twitter's terms of service state that users "may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others." Yet the Israeli army, formally known as the Israeli Defense Forces, has unleashed a stream of tweets tracking its offensive against Palestinian militants in Gaza, which include what appear to be threats against senior leaders of the Islamic group Hamas.
Here's one of the most talked-about tweets:
We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012
The tweets are part of an unprecedented social media campaign to spread propaganda, allowing the IDF to circumvent an international press that is often sympathetic to Palestinian communities that have lived under occupation for decades. The IDF's tweets stress the near-constant rocket fire coming into Israel from Gaza, as well as Israeli casualties. The tweets also contain video of Israeli missiles blowing up Hamas militants, and brag about the IDF's high-tech weapons and defense systems.
Should Twitter allow Israel to continue to use its platform for propaganda? "In the real, human world, the implied threat behind Israel's tweets is clear — take cover, or be taken out," says Brian Fung at The Atlantic. "But nowhere is there a 'specific' threat of violence. The IDF doesn't give away any operational information. It doesn't tell Hamas, 'We're coming to get you.'"
And as distasteful as it may to be to some, many say Twitter should let the social media campaign play out. "Leaving this content up is the right call," says Matt Buchanan at BuzzFeed. "It's brutal, it's propaganda — it's war — but it's also important….Good, bad, or ugly, this shouldn't be pulled from the light of day."
However, there are serious concerns that social media could anesthetize people to the horrors of war. "By making sure the conversation takes place in this restricted forum, @IDFspokesperson is limiting the possible responses," says Joseph L. Flatley at The Verge:
When I say that the IDF has turned a military operation into a #hashtag, I'm not being cute. I'm saying that it's transformed an act of war into a social media event. And once #PillarOfDefense has become equal in our mind to #VMA2010 or #YOLO, it will be tough to evoke a stronger response than this: *grabs popcorn.* Which, if you think about it, is a victory on Israel's part.