Internet Wars

A recent article published by the Associated Press highlights the growing struggle between political factions on online forms. The focus of this story is a video of Hamas rockets striking southern Israel that was flagged as offensive. After a brief review, the video returned with the disclaimer, “inappropriate for minors.” The media has always had a level on control regarding conflict but never before have individual users had such opportunities to influence and sway opinion.

Practically any type of ideologically driven propaganda can be found on the Internet and YouTube is no exception. (The Israeli Defense forces’ page can be found here). The content of these videos are exactly what you would expect, weak video evidence of Hamas’ ability coupled with an emphasis on humanitarian effort by the Israeli army.

This also brings attention to an apparent double-standard in YouTube’s censorship. While the IDF’s videos were restored almost immediately, countless tales of anti-Israeli videos being permanetly removed exist. It is conceivable that all YouTube videos illustrating the mistreatment of Palestinians by Israel really are too disturbing to host (which would in itself further emphasize the significance of these videos), but I imagine politics plays the largest factor. Yet, despite the absence of an official Hamas web page and the removal of anti-Israeli videos, plenty of pro-Hamas videos are still available.

The Internet also provides a means for professional media outlets to have distribution in areas that otherwise limit consumer access. Due to the Israeli expulsion of the foreign press, Al-Jazeera is the only international news outlet in Gaza and the Internet provides access to the many parts of America where its English language service is not on cable, providing coverage of the invasion otherwise hard to come by.

Beyond posts by official and professional organizations, amateur videos attempt to capture the glory of their cause and discredit their opponents. The battle, typically laden with foul language, poor grammar and petty insults, becomes evident on the message boards. Too often videos on both sides of any issue rely on evidence out of context or outright fabrications. Videos showing children training for warfare carry an emotional wallop, but so do videos showing children who have been victimized. On the other hand, videos aimed at propagandizing Arab children are heirs to a tradition of propagandizing American children that includes ethnic stereotyping.

However, the motivations behind these Internet struggles remain as diverse as the issues they encompass. Some are simply venting frustration, others seek academic means to solve issues, others seem to only incite more violence. The point remains that any ideology can receive worldwide recognition through a simple Internet video.

Although media portrayal has always been an important aspect to any issue, the Internet has transformed the conflict permanently. Newspapers, magazines and television programs were always limited in their ability to transmit content and keep parties continually updated. The lack of censorship on the Internet is a double edged sword. It is well known that almost anything can be found on the Internet and the sheer amount of content is testimony to its potential persuasive power. The Internet conflict allows groups to recruit, mobilize and influence at previously inconceivable rate; its importance cannot be overstated. At the same time, this freedom puts a greater burden on the user to learn how to distinguish credible sources from unreliable ones.

Providing a reliable interface between the user and the enormous data available on the Internet is an important element of our work at the Minaret of Freedom Institute. The Internet is a crucial tool used everyday to promote our mission and vocalize our opinion. Without it, we would be limited by heavy mailing costs, impediments to data access, and the censorious filter of the mainstream media. How would this blog be distributed, and how inconvenient would citations be without hyperlinks to witness firsthand the examples we chose? Our policies of Internet use aim to avoid the pitfalls of personal and propaganda blogs. We seek to provide people the kind of editing service they don’t get from sites like YouTube, a service that lies somewhere between that of newspaper’s editorial staff and an academic review procedure.

As the Internet generation becomes older and more involved in politics, the effects of online soapboxes will continue to grow. List-serves, blogs and BlackBerrys only serve to further expand an already diverse amount of material found online. Essentially, anyone can become a celebrity through the Internet and the potential effects of their influence are limitless. Without a doubt, the Internet has forever changed the notion of “freedom of expression.” We take seriously the notion that with freedom comes responsibility.

Imran Malik and Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute


Minaret of Freedom Institute Program Assistant

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