Social networking has become a staple of our society. We spent much of the last decade making profiles and following each other. Using the phrase, “Facebook Me” has become commonplace, and Lady Gaga has almost 9 million followers on Twitter.
This decade, we are seeing how the spread of this phenomenon affects the rest of the world. In the Middle East in particular, we have seen what journalists have dubbed, “Facebook Revolution.” Revolutionaries all over the world have begun to use the internet and social networks to organize towards a particular end. In response, the governments of these revolutionaries have engineered internet shutoffs for entire nations. In their attempt to maintain control over these nations, dictators instead bring world attention to the issues in their country.
This type of press is envied the world over. How many have a particular cause that they would like to spread knowledge of? One group in particular – terrorists – vie for this type of attention day in and day out. Therefore, it is not surprising that murmurs around the internet suggest something new and dangerous called electronic intifada. Facebook groups by this name have been growing by the thousands daily. The comparisons between the struggles of the Palestinian people and those in Tunisia or Egypt ring true with those whom empathize with the Palestinian people.
Electronic Intifada is only one of many Facebook pages that are being used. Another page titled Third Palestinian Intifada had almost 250,000 members. I watched as the page grew from only around 1000 members to around 250,000, eventually attracting the attention of Facebook users. These members spread word of the page, eventually resulting in an appeal yesterday by Israeli Cabinet Minister Yuli Edelstein to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook took down the original page, but in the last 24 hours it has surged to 10,000+ members and spawned several smaller pages professing the same thing. Their main objective? May 15th – the day their “Facebook Intifada” begins.
Many groups are utilizing social networking and communication technology in ways that have not been seen before. Much like the Zapatistas, small groups are beginning to grow powerful through the use of technology and the internet. All of this is largely floating under the radar of news media who are preoccupied with events in Libya, elsewhere in the Middle East, and Japan.
As Americans, what can or should we do regarding this situation? Facebook’s policy on matters such as this generally is that they are against the censorship of any content on the site. I believe that individuals should be able to speak their minds, but when this results in violence, something needs to be done.
What are our options? Policing all of the content created by a group of people larger than the population of the United States cannot be done by Facebook by themselves. The government cannot check content, as there is simply too much over too widespread a geographic area. Additionally, this would violate Facebook’s privacy agreements with its users.
Many users of Facebook have come up with a creative solution to the problem – they have become “internet police.” Pages have sprung up in response to the Third Palestinian Intifada page, telling Facebook users to report the pages organizing the Intifada. I believe that this is the one of the most effective models for controlling the spread of terrorism utilizing social media. Individuals, when bound together by a common cause and with the proper tools, can be extremely powerful. We’ve seen the perfect example of this unfolding in the Facebook intifada.
As members of this digital era, we must be responsible for the content that we together create as a planet. The internet belongs to no one and everyone, and if everyone and no one is not responsible for it, it will become a tool for violence and mayhem, even more so than it already is.
In the words of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, “When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place.” We must be responsible for keeping this system in a “really good place.”
UPDATE: The ADL has posted a complaint about the page here. The page has been shutdown again as of 3/31, early morning, but has gone up again after a moment of downtime. They have around 2,000 “fans” in the past few hours.