Tuesday, December 1, 2009

IDF Raises Internet Defence Unit

I've written before that the Internet is a cesspool of hatred. Antisemitism abounds on the Internet and much of it is tied to supposed criticism of Israel. It should never be suggested that criticism of Israel is illegitimate and that's not my purpose, but while its true that most criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, it's probably true that all antisemites are critical of Israel.

Much of this hatred and indeed much criticism I've seen of Israel on various blogs or comments on news stories of major media outlets tends to be very uninformed. People make decisions based on partial information or oversimplified explanations of complex events. As a case in point (and I don't mean to discuss this issue in detail here) some of the comments on this story, run on the CBC suggest that a Nazi war criminal should not be tried in Germany because he was acquitted in Israel. In Israel, however, he was acquitted of a different accusation than the one he is on trial for in Germany. This detail seems to have escaped many CBC readers who instead think an old man is being prosecuted for no reason.

This sort of ignorance can, dangerously, lead to hatred. It's not hard to imagine a person who misunderstood this case thinking that this case was not an act of justice, but an act of vengeance and a cruel persecution of a frail old man by Jews, who else? Ergo, in the mind of this ignorant (not stupid, ignorant) person, the Jews are doing something horrible to this poor old man.

This long introduction is meant to set the ground for this story from Ha'Aretz that the IDF will be recruiting soldiers to fight against misinformation and hatred on websites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. This would be another plank in the Israeli platform of public diplomacy, or, as it is called in Israel "Hasbara" (explanation.)

This is a somewhat double edged sword. On the one hand, more accurate information and a real counter to hatred and misinformation is welcome. On the other hand, many people on such websites that I've come across have deeply entrenched positions and are unlikely to be swayed. Indeed, often whenever there are many pro-Israeli comments on a given site, in an attempt to discredit these comments, someone invariably brings up Israel's history of public diplomacy and not only by the government, but also by groups like CAMERA, MEMRI, and Just Journalism. If these IDF bloggers are to become prolific, there is also the chance that their lines will become rehearsed and sound like talking points, which again hurts their credibility.

It is, however, an unfair criticism that just because the IDF has a staff of bloggers/facebookers/twitterers that the comments these people make should be discarded. A fact is a fact. 1+1=2, no matter who says it and if this IDF team is writing the truth, then that's helpful. It should also be pointed out though that many governments practice public diplomacy and though different means. Canada (and here), the United States and Australia all come to mind as countries that have made use of public diplomacy though a wide range of methods. Perhaps they have not developed anything akin to what the IDF is developing, but its questionable that these countries come under the same online derision as Israel.

If this Israeli effort can put more accurate facts into the public domain to combat ignorance, the breeder of hatred, than it is to be lauded. If, on the other hand, however, it appears too fabricated or even resorts to producing misinformation, then it will have defeated itself--a self inflicted wound.

1 comment:

April said...

Saw you tweet about this on twitter. should have mentioned effort of Jewish Internet Defense Force (JIDF) here.