Hamas on Twitter: “You’ve Opened Hell’s Gates on Yourselves”

Hamas is not such a friendly group of people. They may smile for the cameras when naive dogooders first arrive in Gaza or upon the return of their leader’s granddaughter from medical treatment in Israel

Hamas in Gaza

(actually they didn’t smile, they frowned because it made their boycott calls seem kinda stupid); but Twitter has had enough of being used as a channel for them to voice direct violent threats and has suspended their
account.

Could this be an opportunity to replace badmouthing with conversation? Is Twitter going to succeed where all the American presidents and special envoys have failed? Yeah, probably not. I’m sure that would make my friend Peter Lerner’s public diplomacy job much easier but I’m afraid that for a second there I drifted into a fantasy, sorry about that.     IDF on Twitter

The fact is that hostile social media accounts will continue to pop up like mushrooms after the rain. Homophobic, Xenophobic and other Polyphobic groups will continue to spread hate rather than engage in productive dialogue.  Governments and organizations will continue to try to deliver messages according to their agendas. But with all the accounts in the world, they will never reach the impact they desire if they do not step out of their comfort zones and create content worth sharing beyond their natural circles.

See the full New York Time’s report and Twitter thread here

 

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#ShanaTova Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif

Foreign Minister of Iran, Mr. Javad Zarif tweeted a Jewish new year greeting to his followers.

Activist Christine Pelosi (yeah, also the daughter of) tweeted back, thanking him but also pointing out the almost systematic holocaust denial by Iranian officials, namely former president Ahmadinejad.

In an unprecedented move, Zarif, also a former ambassador to the UN and a Denver University graduate, replied what seems not only as words of criticism against the former president but also, a crack in the holocaust denial doctrine, fashioned to delegitimize Israel’s existence.  iranian foreign minister javar zarif wishes shana tova on twitter

Just to clarify with a very quick side note to put this in the right context:

There are roughly 25,000 Jews in Iran today, relics of a large Jewish community that dates back over 2,500 years. Today, there are about 100,000 Iranian Jews in Israel, 5,000 in Europe and about 20,000 in the USA.

The former president is one of some who believe that the only justification for the State of Israel is the holocaust, therefore denying it ever happened would mean that Israel has no claim or right to exist as a sovereign state (that’s in a very tiny nutshell).

Also important to note is that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also tweeted a New Year greeting that.

Now back to this eye catching engagement:

This exchange of tweets gained Zrif over 2,000 new followers in just a few hours, and some media attention that expresses hope that this administration is proving to be more moderate as it promised.

Interestingly enough, President Hassan Rouhani had also tweeted a similar greeting, however this was quickly followed up by his media adviser who claimed the president does not even have an account.

iran president on twitter

Social engagement Vs. familiar methods of denial may be indicative of will Vs. confidence the new administration has or lacks, as it takes the reigns over a country with a glorious past, a depressing present and an unknown future.

Is this twitter conversation a green light for Iranian civilians to speak their minds or is twitter the next online platform to be blocked in Iran by the Revolutionary Guards’ cyber team?

With all the cynicism and pessimism that can be applied when it comes to the Ayatollah regime, it is a new year after all, and it is custom to forgive and ask for forgiveness for the wrongs of the previous year, and to look upon the new year with hope and positive vibes. So i’m gonna do just that, and wish everyone, a very sweet and happy new year. Shana Tova

One of the Scariest Moments of My Life

A couple of weeks ago, Israel decided to take action in retaliation to the rocket showering southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. Once again, all eyes were on the Arab-Israeli conflict and for the first time since the early 90’s, Rocket fire reached Tel Aviv. But not just rockets. Another long-almost-forgotten visitor returned to Tel Aviv; a bomb was placed on a bus and had exploded, injuring many.  Thankfully, my sister in-law who was right by the explosion wasn’t injured nor were any of my friends and family members.
But this attack managed to shake me to the bone,
not for the obvious reasons. gaza

2 hours prior to the attack,
someone identifying as a”media man”
from Amman, Jordan, tweeted me directly with the following message:
“10 people killed and 36 injured in an explosion in Tel Aviv”.
He was using Israeli advocacy  hashtags such as #IsraelUnderAttack #IsraelUnderFire and more.
I couldn’t understand why would someone who is advocating for Israel try to damage its advocacy efforts by posting false information, and I made that clear to him in my tweets back to him. I realized that he got to me after my angry tweet to BBC reporter Jon Donison, condemning him for tweeting a picture of an injured child from Syria and tagging it as Gaza.

After the bomb, he kept taunting me with “I told you” messages followed by further “warnings” of  events yet to come.

I posted a screen shot on my Facebook page, and kept posting with every threat.  The images were shared all the way to the military, the police, the secret service – who all contacted me for their own purposes.

Was the guy truly involved? Did he really have information about a planned attack? Was it just a lucky guess? Is he really who he says he is or an alias of someone further away? Did he pick random people or was I his choice for a reason? Should I feel guilty for not taking his warning seriously prior to the explosion?

I don’t know. But one thing is for sure, and that is that social media is rapidly given more roles by its users. With every day that goes by, the definition of “possible”, of time and of space stretch even further and wider, requiring government agencies, civil servants and law enforcement to adapt and update their communication strategies and tactics frequently, withstanding the challenges budgets and bureaucracy impose.

Digital Diplomacy Colors the AppStore RED

On November 17th, I posted one of my most viewed posts “Gaza Shells Israel on Twitter” where I tried to make the point that the lack of Israeli presence on Twitter is harming the country’s public diplomacy efforts in light of the latest round of hostilities between Gaza and Israel. I simply said: “Israel is the startup nation and the hub of technological innovation – Don’t ask them for photos, don’t create hashtags that no one searches for. Develop a simple, visual, location-based app that would enable people to share real-time alarms/sirens, rocket shells and of course photos and tags that will help them share their experience with everyone in the world, and not just their own circles.”

Surely enough, today, only two days later, an app named “Tzeva Adom” (literal translation: Color Red, which is the name of the sirens sounded throughout the country when a rocket is fired in its direction) appeared in the AppStore!

color red siren app israel

The Tzeva Adom App as appears in the AppStore

Funnily enough, I learned about it from an article on Ynetnews, reporting that Knesset (Parliament) Member Gila Gamliel from the Likud party currently in power, called upon foreign ambassadors posted in Israel to download the app in order to “get some understanding of what is going on in Southern-Israel”.

Whether this was a direct result of my post, a spark of common sense or lessons well learned on the go, it is interesting to see the growing understanding of the importance of digital diplomacy and how to utilize it as part of the overall diplomatic effort.

Gaza Shells Israel On Twitter

My uniform is ironed, folded and ready for the anticipated call from my unit. After barrages of rockets from Gaza to Israel, it was time to retaliate. Many Israelis, who were getting tired of the situation, kept posting memes and updated their statuses expressing their wish to block rocket attacks and get back to normal life. It was at a certain point that the government decided to strike back, and has been doing so in surgical, pin-pointed airstrikes designed to stop the rockets by exploding them in mid-air as well as pounding at Hamas, its leadership and its infrastructure.

On Facebook, you couldn’t help but notice the heartwarming gestures of people living in the central and northern parts of the country, offering their homes and sending warm wishes to the 1 million civilians within rocket range. But soon after, rockets started falling in central Israel, making it 5 million civilians under rocket range, exposed to physical danger as well as much frustration, confusion and anxiety.

Israelis love Facebook so much that they forget there is a whole world out there which isn’t comprised of family and friends and who doesn’t necessarily support, understand or even know the slightest thing about what is happening now between Gaza and Israel. I noticed many of my friends, calling their friends and fans to post photos and testimonies of the rockets flying over their heads so that “the whole world will see”.

gaza fires rockets on israel

“The Foreign Ministry calls upon the citizens of Southern-Israel to send videos, photos that show your lives under rocket threat”

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked civilians to email them videos and photos so that they may use them to create posters, memes and clips that will serve as advocacy materials in the public diplomacy efforts to keep the world informed and to maintain the first time ever general support of Israel and the opinion that Hamas launching daily, if not hourly rocket attacks from Gaza to Israel is the direct cause of this escalation.

But you see, the conversation is on Twitter, not just on Facebook. If Facebook is a social network, then Twitter is a source of information to all, at any given time, on any topic.

gaza shells israel on twitter

Gaza & Israel, or should we say just Gaza, on Twitter

Israelis, as opposed to Palestinians, don’t use Twitter. And when it comes to Instagram, they seem to keep the tags very local. This simple truth leaves the 4th battle field totally neglected.

A quick scroll down the twitter feed using the tags #Israel or #Gaza will show exactly who is shaping and controlling the conversation. No matter how many advocacy groups and governemt organizations will try to contribute, it is the people, in this case the Palestinians who control the Twittersphere simply because it isn’t used by Israelis.

As I wait to be called for duty, I would like to call upon the Foreign Ministry, the Israel Defense Forces and everyone interested mobilizing civilians to keep the world informed:

Israel is the startup nation and the hub of technological innovation – Don’t ask them for photos, don’t create hashtags that no one searches for. Develop a simple, visual, location-based app that would enable people to share real-time alarms/sirens, rocket shells and of course photos and tags that will help them share their experience with everyone in the world, and not just their own circles.

The concern of a location based app revealing to Hamas the exact location of where the rockets fell I s understandable. So is the fear of encouraging people to take pictures of rockets when they should be running for shelter. But the thing is that, Hamas will know whether you tell them or not, and people will be taking pictures of rockets anyway…

Once again, the best speakers and the people themselves, the moment you do it for them, you lose the ears and the hearts of your potential audience which is not yours, it’s in fact, theirs.

Resisting Temptations: 10 Lessons learned

We all have different considerations that lead us to choose whatever business we are in. Whether it is for financial benefit, a passion or a deeply rooted sense of mission, the hard work we invest makes us venerable to criticism and makes us at times, and yes, emotional.

I admit, I have made quite a few mistakes by allowing those who I like to call taunters (after the ‘French Tounter’ in Monty Python’s Holy Grail) get to me while trying to engage on Facebook, Twitter and sometimes even on Quora.

Having the urge and the ability to respond directly has taught me a few valuable lessons which I am happy to share with you:

  1. Count to 10. A lot has changed since childhood but that tip is still very relevant, even with the need for quick responses.
  2. Anything you say can and will be retweeted against you.
  3. Just because they “like” you, doesn’t mean they’ll always like you.
  4. A back and forth conversation on our timeline can be left for those who really like you and would gladly comment for you.
  5. Your own personal sense of humor or irony can alienate fans who identify with the message but not with its delivery.
  6. The account you manage is not your own. The way you navigate the conversation is part of your brand strategy and reflects on it, not your personal feelings.
  7. Your taunter is not targeting you personally, but they will be happy to use your emotional outbreak just for fun. They are either bored out of their  mind or there with a deliberate intention to criticize your brand/organization/country with no real wish for a dialogue.
  8. Welcome your critics. The human need to be noticed is a large part of how and why social media has grown to these dimensions. Censorship repels even the loyal fans and lessens the engagement.
  9. You can’t always predict or control where that comment/tweet or post will end up.
  10. If your fans are ganging up on a taunter, calm the discussion down, even if you agree with them. But seriously, don’t  give a person or a comment more attention than they deserve. That will only make them want to keep doing it.

At the end of the day, when managing public diplomacy, and particularly digital diplomacy,

monty python french taunter

“Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time”

there are always 3 groups you typically interact with:

  1. The “Persuaded” – Your supporters who will like, share and comment positively if the agree or won’t comment if  they don’t, just to save face (your face).
  2. The “On the Fence” – Those who either have no opinion or are trying to establish one. Put them at the top of your priority list and tip them over to your side.
  3. The “No Matter What You Say, You Suck” – those will always be around, and you will never persuade them, especially if you insist on letting them drag you into confrontation. So just keep your level of engagement at minimum and let their arguments against you gain you the sympathy of the “on the fence” crowd, the solidarity of the “persuaded” crowd and let it work to your advantage.

Always remember that being wise is much more important than being right. Let others do your lobbying, beyond the time it consumes of you and the potential slips of the type, it is in your best interest to mobilize others on your behalf. Especially if you represent a government, because the mere fact that you are the government puts a damper on your credibility.

Preaching to the Choir

The Russian embassy in London tweeted me an article they posted. A few things caught my eye and I will be writing about them in posts to come, but one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was that according to the article, the Russian (600) Embassy’s following is the 3rd largest in the UK after the USA (21,000) and Israel (7,200). I find that interesting, especially due to the size of the countries, Diasporas, trade ties and of course relations and interests.

But how accurate is that? Do we measure only pages that state that their belong to the embassy or consulate? What about pages created for niche markets, festivals or other events?

With this thought in mind, I took a brief look at many of its affiliated pages and I realized that while it is remarkably active in social media, Israel doesn’t fulfill its potential, and stays preaching to its own choir.

After successfully establishing Facebook pages for the embassies and consulates around the world, the Israel foreign ministry and staff, as well as affiliated advocacy groups have turned to setting up unique pages focusing on specific aspects they want to amplify in an attempt to reach out to a broader audience through what would be their own fields of interests such as art, fashion, technology etc. The pages are filled with colorful images, messaging and useful information.

After the initial fan drive effect wears off, their fan base remains pretty much stagnant and they find it very hard to expand. Why? I believe it is rooted first and foremost in their very first step: naming the page. The names they choose are almost always directly indicative of Israel – either including the word Israel or a Hebrew word in English lettering.

The content too, is restricted to Israel, and thought there might be abundance and variety of content the country has to offer, it is very limited and consequentially limiting. The direct affiliation with the country, as well as the lack of local content, deters, to my belief, many potential fans.

I bet that if we take 5 of those pages, averaging in 1,500 fans, and cross them, we will find a 70% overlap in both fans and content, leaving only a few of the fans following purely out of niche interest.

Excluding a few, only people who are actually looking for information about Israel will end up finding and possibly liking those pages and will be exposed to the information the country is trying to share with the world in order to broaden the conversation about it and improve its overall image. That leaves the true target audience – the unaware, the unconvinced unengaged.

Understanding this very basic point can easily give them more for their money, which is invested less in Facebook ads and more in the people who are paid to maintain the pages. By the way, those people have many other responsibilities and are not fully minded and geared towards this task. Most of the time, it is a task they picked up on the way, and they don’t all have marketing or PR backgrounds. In many cases, the job is left to interns who do their thing and leave after 3 months; therefore the very important strategic element, tone and continuity are left behind.

This is of course not restricted to Facebook.

I think that breaking out of the paradigm of Facebook + Twitter = social media is imperative. But I’ll get to that in later posts on this blog. But as I said, first things first. If you have an image problem, why the hell would you name a page that is supposed to attract those who wouldn’t normally flock to you, after yourself?