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Social Media at War

LawFare, Online Platforms’ Responses to Terrorism – “These tensions are not new, but the current Israel-Hamas conflict is testing companies in novel ways. Platforms began to aggressively address terrorist material online in response to the Islamic State’s surge of digital activity from 2013 to 2017. But the Islamic State, despite producing a slew of creative propaganda, was always far more politically isolated than Hamas. The Christchurch attack in 2019 spurred an internet-wide scramble to remove copies of the terrorist’s murderous livestream. The incident powerfully illustrated that a network of terrorist supporters can amplify the impact of an attack even if they were not involved in planning it. But Hamas’s capacity for both violence and propaganda far outstrips that lone actor. The confluence of political and policy complications coupled with operational complexity makes the current situation uniquely complex for platforms. The potential challenges facing digital platforms are too numerous to list comprehensively: livestreamed murder; hate speech and incitement targeting Israelis and Palestinians in the conflict zone and Jews and Muslims further afield; disinformation propagated by combatants and their supporters; and  innumerable instances of rancorous political speech, much of which merits protection and some of which violates any number of platform rules on promotion of violence, gore, and celebrating terrorism. Platforms should take a hard line against terrorism and war crimes, but they should not whitewash this moment. Technology firms generally ought to create safe experiences online, but the physical world is not safe. Hamas’s brutality on Oct. 7 should and will indelibly impact the group’s viability as a political organization moving forward. But the full scope of the violence on Oct. 7 will not be known on social media, which ultimately will scrub much of it away. Meanwhile, Israel’s attack on Hamas positions in Gaza exacerbates an already-terrible humanitarian situation. Every political action, including war, carries pros and cons—and in war those negative consequences are often reflected in the kind of soul-splitting imagery and video that makes the cost of both terrorism and war real. Much of that imagery also happens to violate the rules of most platforms.”

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