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Friday, January 17, 2014

Twitter Suspends Hamas Accounts

Several Twitter accounts used by the military wing of Hamas have been suspended by the social network in recent days, angering the Islamist militants and delighting Israel’s military.

As The Lede reported in late 2012 during Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, the blockaded Palestinian territory ruled by Hamas, the Islamist militants used their now-suspended @AlqassamBrigade Twitter account to reply directly to messages from @IDFSpokesperson, the official account of the Israel Defense Forces.

Although those exchanges of insults and threats have disappeared from the social network with the suspension of that account and at least two more used by the militants, the Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf preserved a screenshot of one interaction that was posted on Twitter even as the two sides also traded rocket fire.

At the time, the online banter between the two enemies’ social-media teams led other Twitter users to suggest the warring parties might consider using the virtual space for peacebuilding.

The two sides, however, clearly took the rhetorical exchange much more seriously, and the banter continued until recently, as a cached dialogue from October between the militants and Peter Lerner, a British-Israeli spokesman for the military, suggested.

A screenshot of an exchange between an Israeli military spokesman and the military wing of Hamas on Twitter in October. A screenshot of an exchange between an Israeli military spokesman and the military wing of Hamas on Twitter in October.

Twitter’s policy on abusive behavior states that “Users may not make direct, specific threats of violence against others.” A statement from the Israel Defense Forces noted that Twitter’s terms of service say that the platform is not open to “a person barred from receiving services under the laws of the United States or other applicable jurisdiction.” Hamas has been on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations since 1997.

A Twitter spokeswoman told The Lede in an email that the company does not comment on individual accounts “for security and privacy reasons,” but pointed to a page of Twitter Rules that “outline content boundaries on the platform.” Violations of those rules, the company explains, can lead to accounts being suspended or deleted.

While suspended accounts can be reactivated, deleted accounts are removed and the username becomes available to the public once again. The @AlqassamBrigade account has been suspended, not deleted, like with two new accounts with similar names that were apparently set up by the militants this week before quickly being shut down by the social network.

Using a fourth account that was still operating at time of publication, the militants blamed Israel for the suspension of their accounts and promised to continue using the platform to broadcast their message.

The battle for Twitter dominance has taken place as the political use of social media platforms seemed to spread even more broadly this week, when the acrimonious dispute over Ariel Sharon’s legacy moved onto the website Buzzfeed. A tribute to the late Israeli leader, written by a pro-Israel group, was posted on the site’s community platform on Tuesday under the headline, “9 Ways Ariel Sharon Earned The Nickname ‘Arik, King Of Israel.’”

The post celebrated Mr. Sharon’s career as a warrior in the site’s vernacular, with a list of achievements illustrated by clips from popular films and viral videos repurposed as animated GIFs. Among the most controversial items was the fifth entry, headlined “Sharon Was Directly Responsible for Creating the [sic] Israel’s First Dedicated Special Forces Unit,” which likened Mr. Sharon’s Unit 101, held responsible for killing dozens of Palestinian militants and civilians, to that of the anti-Nazi killers in Quentin Tarantino’s film fantasy “Inglorious Basterds.”

As Haaretz reported this week, Unit 101, established in 1953 by Mr. Sharon, “engaged in several controversial actions such as the attack on the Jordanian village of Qibya, in which innocent people were killed and which drew worldwide condemnation.”

The GIF used to illustrate the section of the Buzzfeed post on Unit 101 was made from a scene in Mr. Tarantino’s movie in which an anti-Nazi unit’s commander, played by Brad Pitt, addresses a group of Jewish-American soldiers whose mission it is to kill Nazis.

A scene from “Inglorious Basterds” repurposed in a pro-Israel group’s tribute to Ariel Sharon on Buzzfeed.

After commandos under Mr. Sharon’s command killed 69 Palestinians in the West Bank village of Qibya â€" which was then under Jordanian rule â€" in retaliation for a raid by Palestinian militants who came from a different area, officials insisted that the deaths had been accidental. Written orders to Mr. Sharon from his superiors however, obtained by the Israeli historian Benny Morris, stated that the point of the raid was “maximal killing and property damage in order to chase inhabitants of the village from their houses.”