With social media a key new battleground in the fight against violent extremism, Israel’s Foreign Ministry is expanding its capabilities in social media counter-messaging with the launch of a new unit to combat online “incitement” by Palestinian militants.
The Foreign Ministry explained the rationale for the new unit by noting the rise of new forms of communication among young people, including groups primed for radicalization: “This recent wave of Palestinian terrorism has been characterized by attacks committed by young terrorists whose age ranges from 11 to 21. According to figures provided by the defense establishment, these youths were directly influenced by incitement seen on social media.”
The Ministry statement continued: “Incitement on social media is readily available and in most cases there is no oversight when it comes to the content published there.”
The new unit will employ about ten people and fall under the purview of the Foreign Ministry’s public relations division. It will include specialists in Arabic language messaging and social media, some of them drawn from the Israel Defense Force’s signals intelligence and code-breaking units.
As part of its regular duties, the unit will constantly monitor social media for inflammatory language and content, asking for these videos or content to be removed, identifying individuals posting violent incitement online, and responding with a range of prepared counter-messages.
The Foreign Ministry said it is meeting with foreign companies including Google and YouTube to gain their active cooperation in the effort.
This is just the latest big social media publicity push by the Israeli government as it seeks to track and counter terrorism as well as manage foreign public opinion. Back in 2013 it revealed plans to hire college students to serve as social media foot soldiers with the mission of countering anti-Israel and anti-Semitic messages online. The students use social media to spread pro-Israel messages and combat efforts to organize boycotts against Israel, for which efforts they will be rewarded with full or partial scholarships.