19:13 GMT +3 hours24 November 2014
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Social Media Companies Face Ethical Dilemmas in Middle East Conflict

World
(updated 18:34 28.10.2014)
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The talk of a ceasefire, Tuesday, between Israel and Hamas has done little to dampen the war of words unfolding between the two sides on social media websites like Twitter, leaving US-based tech companies caught in the middle of an unprecedented ethical dilemma at the intersection of social media and war.

WASHINGTON, November 21 (RIA Novosti) - The talk of a ceasefire, Tuesday, between Israel and Hamas has done little to dampen the war of words unfolding between the two sides on social media websites like Twitter, leaving US-based tech companies caught in the middle of an unprecedented ethical dilemma at the intersection of social media and war.

“We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” said the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in a tweet announcing its attacks on Hamas last Wednesday.

“Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves),” responded Hamas using the Twitter handle “Al Qassam Brigades

Both the IDF and Hamas have used social media to try and persuade public opinion, including touting death counts, issuing assault warnings, posting videos of attacks, as well as graphic photos of children wounded or killed in the conflict.

And in contrast to the way Twitter was used by protestors in the Middle East during the Arab spring, this time it is government entities waging a social media propaganda war and sending messages, leaving tech companies in an unfamiliar situation when it comes to deciding whether or not to step in and shut the accounts down.

“Social media websites like Twitter and Facebook have taken a hands-off position when it comes to regulating speech on its sites, because it’s really a slippery slope,” said Ellyn Angelotti, a Digital Trends and Social Media faculty member at Poynter, a non-profit journalism school in the state of Florida.

While Twitter users are not permitted to “publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others” or use the site “for any unlawful purposes or in the furtherance of illegal activities,” it’s unclear if the above exchange violates Twitter’s terms of service as the threats are implied, not direct.

Benedict Evans, analyst at media research company Enders Analysis, told the BBC: "This clearly puts Twitter in a difficult position. They want to preserve their position as a carrier service that doesn't editorialize. On the other hand, they have terms and conditions that must be adhered to.”

“There is something grotesque and disturbing about two parties with a long history of conflict live-narrating the launching of bombs that kill civilians and destroy communities,” wrote Jessica Roy in an article for the tech blog BetaBeat.com.

“Faced with a new frontier of social media manipulation, neither YouTube nor Twitter really knows what to do,” she said.