We take our victories where we can find them.
Back in November 2012, with the sound of Colour Red alerts on the radio, I felt useless. Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets were reaching the outskirts of Tel Aviv for the first time, and the main thing the Government wanted of me was to stay indoors and out of the way. I made Aliyah at age 30, and never served in the army. Lots of my friends were being called up to military service for a ground incursion that, thankfully, never became necessary. All I could do was watch from my computer and tweet out the news as I heard it.
But Hamas’ armed wing – the Izzadeen al-Qassam brigades – was using its Twitter account too. It was using it as a propaganda tool, calling for the deaths of Israelis as well as lying about its ‘successes’ in rocket-firing.
Now, this was something I could do, some minuscule way I could make a contribution to the safety and security of Israel. Because Hamas – as a recognised terrorist group – shouldn’t be allowed to have a Twitter account at all.
I wrote a blog on the Times of Israel that explained why. US law makes it illegal to give communications support to Hamas, and also that Twitter’s own Terms of Service also ban terrorists. It called on people to complain to Twitter, and for US citizens to write to their government and elected representatives.
I was surprised when it caught on, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Lots of other people, both in Israel and abroad, also wanted to be able to do something. I was copied in on hundreds of complaints to Twitter – surely only a small proportion of those that were actually sent. I saw two complaints to Twitter from (non-Israeli) parliamentarians.
The next day, though, I was sent a message from Christians United for Israel, the world’s biggest pro-Israel organisation. They had read my blog, thought that it was a good idea and wanted to know if I’d mind if they also campaigned to kick Hamas off of Twitter. I told them I’d be delighted.
The CUFI campaign achieved 12000 email complaints to Twitter in only the first four hours, each copied to the Attorney General in Twitter’s HQ-town of San Francisco. The #banHamas hashtag went viral.
Twitter didn’t act fast. It didn’t take action while the conflict was ongoing. But the issue continued to percolate through the company’s internal structures.
Last week, after more than a year of asking, Twitter finally took action and deleted the @alqassambrigade account.
Hamas complained on their websites and in the Arab media, claiming: “Jewish-Christian incitation against the Qassam active account … led to the suspension of the Qassam Twitter account.”
So what’s been achieved?
Hamas has already made a new Twitter account, of course. But the account has lost all of its 40,000+ followers and has to start again. So far, after a week, only 10% of those followers have followed Hamas to its new account. 35,000 people are no longer seeing hourly Hamas propaganda.
Those people who did make the effort to find the new account are likely to be the more committed Hamas supporters, which gives security services some additional useful information.
Twitter has accepted the principle that Hamas is a banned terrorist group and its accounts should be deleted. Hamas’ new Twitter account should eventually meet the same fate as its old one, but there’s no rush; it’s better to wait until they’ve invested some real work in it first.
And, some fourteen months later, our efforts did pay off. It’s a tiny victory, so small as to be barely visible. But it’s something.