Students from all over the world volunteer in IDC Herzliya's Situation Room to defend Israel on social media
Around 180 student volunteers from IDC’s international school work through the sirens and the rocket attacks to monitor social networks and initiate counter-actions to balance the anti-Israel discourse online. The Situation Room estimates that over 2 million people have already been exposed to the content it has produced, and that millions more will be exposed to it in the coming days.
The flare-up with Hamas in Gaza and the events that have been taking place throughout the country have ignited an ongoing wave of incitement against Israel and expressions of anti-Semitism on social networks around the world. In response, a special public diplomacy “situation room” was activated at IDC Herzliya, where approximately 180 volunteers have been working in recent days. Most of these volunteers are students from IDC’s Raphael Recanati International School, including foreign students from the United States, Europe and South America; other volunteers are IDC alumni.
The team of volunteers has been working throughout each and every day of Operation Guardian of the Walls, including during sirens and rocket barrages in central Israel, to monitor social media and flag hate speech. Their objective is to engage in counter-efforts to balance the anti-Israel discourse. For example, the students have produced a lot of original content, including dozens of photos and videos in various languages, such as English, French and Spanish, for distribution to a broad international audience. Efforts have also been made to report offensive and inciting content to the technology companies, with the aim of having it removed from the social networks.
One of the Situation Room's main concerns is exposing Hamas lies online and in the global media. For instance, the volunteers succeeded in revealing Hamas's use of images from the 2016 Syrian civil war and other combat zones, which it portrayed as being taken from the events of the past week in Gaza. In addition, the volunteer team managed to shut down the Twitter account of a senior member of one of the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, who was using it to incite violence against Israel.
This Situation Room began as a spontaneous initiative during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and resumed its activities in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge, at the initiative of the students. In recent years, it has been operating within the framework of the Act.IL program, in collaboration with the Israeli American Council (IAC) and other organizations. Act.IL engages in online activism to promote responsible discourse and fight anti-Semitism on social media, and is part of IDC Herzliya’s Public Diplomacy Program.
Unlike terrorist organizations, which use an army of bots to amplify their voices, Act.IL uses only the authentic messages of IDC students and volunteers.
One of the students who has been volunteering over the last week is Johan Zarbiv from France, who says, “With Israeli citizens being attacked by rockets and at the same time Israel being constantly condemned on social media, I could not just stand by. So I joined the other students here at Act.IL. Our goal is to expose Hamas’s fake news and other false information circulating on social media. We help strengthen Israel's positions, its legitimacy, and its right to self-defense.”
The organization's activities are civilian and independent, and receive assistance from IDC Herzliya research institutes, including the Institute for Counter-Terrorism headed by Prof. Boaz Ganor, the Institute for Policy and Strategy headed by Maj. (res.) Amos Gilead, and the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy headed by Ambassador Ron Prosor.
“The members of the Public Diplomacy Program and ACT.IL activists fight all year against BDS and against anti-Semitic and anti-Israel displays online,” says IDC President and Founder Prof. Uriel Reichman. “The response provided by the Situation Room, which is activated in times of crisis, reflects a combination of creative technological knowledge, the ability of our international students to communicate in more than twenty languages, sources of content from IDC’s research institutes, and the relationship with organizations and thousands of volunteers around the world. There are dozens of student volunteers working in the Situation Room, sounding a direct and independent voice which is heard around the world.”
Ambassador Ron Prosor, head of the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy, adds that “Israel is on the front lines of the warfare techniques being used against Western democracies. This is true both with regards to the actual fighting on the ground and with regards to virtual warfare on social media, which is today an integral part of any political conflict. When terrorist organizations abuse the platform provided to them, we demand that those networks take responsibility and prevent them from becoming arenas of hatred and incitement.”