Social Media, Internet Shutdowns are the Latest Weapons in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Days ago the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Pillar of Defense, its latest military operation against Hamas in Gaza, firing over one hundred rockets into the Gaza Strip in response to rockets targeting Israel. The attacks prompted two retaliatory rockets launched from Gaza, targeting Tel Aviv and its suburbs. While the rockets fly and casualties pile up, a parallel conflict is taking place on the Internet and social media.
On Wednesday, the IDF posted a video of what they claimed was the assassination of a senior Hamas Operative and followed it up with a Tweet from the @IDFSpokesperson account:
We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.
This, in turn spurred a reply from Hamas, via @AlQassamBrigade:
@idfspokesperson Our blessed hand will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)
This exchange prompted Brian Fung at The Atlantic to wonder if the war of words between Israel and Hamas violated Twitter’s of terms of service, which prohibits “direct, specific threats of violence against others.” Fung eventually concluded that the exchange did not constitute a violation of Twitter’s TOS, but Matthew Ingram took the opportunity to point out the extraordinary amount of power social media companies have in scenarios such as this one. YouTube has refused to take down the assassination video, even though it appears to violate the site’s community guidelines, which state “if your video shows someone being physically hurt, attacked, or humiliated, don’t post it.” Wired goes on to quote an anonymous YouTube employee saying that the guidelines are just that—guidelines, and not hard-and-fast rules. YouTube’s decision to leave the assassination video up comes just weeks after the company decided to break from its long-standing policies and take down an anti-Muslim video “The Innocence of Muslims” in Egypt and Libya, even though they explicitly admitted that the video did not violate any aspect of their terms of service and they had not received a court order requiring them to do so.
Anonymous has also gotten in on the act. Reacting to a perceived threat by the Israeli government to shut down the Internet in Gaza, the ad-hoc hacker collective announced #OpIsrael, declaring “we are ANONYMOUS and NO ONE shuts down the Internet on our watch.” Anonymous supporters have reportedly begun defacing pro-Israel websites and distributing an Anonymous Gaza Care Package, containing some basic safety and surveillance avoidance information, as well as advice on how to maintain Internet connectivity in the event that Israel follows through on its threat of an Internet blackout. As Gaza and the West Bank are heavily reliant on Israel for their Internet infrastructure, a full-scale blackout is possible, though the likelihood of Israel following through on it is debatable.
At this time, access to power and Internet connectivity in Gaza is spotty and inconsistent. Gazans have experienced power outages and are accustomed to relying on generators, but a concerted Israeli effort to shut down the Internet in Gaza has not yet materialized. In the meantime, dial-up connections can be a lifeline for residents of Gaza. Telecomix has published a guide to configuring and using a dial-up Internet connection. It is important to remember that dial-up connections are not secure. Your communications can be intercepted or spied upon. EFF recommends that you encrypt your browser traffic using HTTPS Everywhere.