On November 15th, Twitter unveiled a new policy that bans all political advertising on its platform. This comes during a time of intense scrutiny over the role social media platforms play in influencing political elections, notably the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election.
The decision brought forth a flurry of responses from both sides of the political aisle, with some praising the decision for reining in the power of wealthy elites, and others condemning it for its implications on freedom of expression — especially since Twitter, in particular, has become a hotbed for political discussion. In addition to banning ads concerning political candidates themselves, Twitter stated that it will ban ads that reference, among other things, political parties, elected officials, elections, legislation, judicial decisions, and advocacy ads for or against any of the aforementioned content.
Sound vague? That’s because it is. Sound subjective? Again, that’s because it is, at least according to Twitter legal advisor Vijaya Gadde, who stated that “inevitably there are some subjective areas” about the policy.
Despite all the hubbub surrounding the controversial decision, few have discussed its possible impact on the online pro-Israel community.
For decades, broad swaths of the mainstream Western media have treated Israel with anything from cold indifference to downright antipathy — so much so, in fact, that entire organizations have been established to combat the biases, inaccuracies, and misinformation peddled by many of these powerful news outlets.
However, the advent of social media caused a tectonic shift in the status quo by giving every individual the power to report and comment on the news as he or she saw it. The role of the mainstream media as information gatekeeper had waned, and the pro-Israel movement, as well as Israel itself, seized the opportunity to begin rectifying its tarnished image on the international stage. Social media became one of the focal points of Israel’s advocacy and public diplomacy efforts.
For example, on the governmental level, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has directly addressed the Iranian people in a powerful video posted to social media, in which he urged them to show courage and oppose the oppressive Islamist regime. In a separate video, Netanyahu offered Israel’s revolutionary water purification technology to the drought-ridden Iran. On the civil society front, grassroots organizations have invented apps that utilize the near-universal availability of social media to generate traction for pro-Israel content and combat anti-Israel or anti-Semitic content. Yes, most online Israel advocacy is done without using ads, but it is far better to have the tool in our arsenal than to not have it at all.
So how does Twitter’s new policy affect the online pro-Israel movement? It is unclear exactly as of yet, since by Gadde’s own admission, the policy will evolve as the company receives more feedback. Yet there is still good reason to be apprehensive.
Indeed, it is possible that banning ads about political candidates and elected officials would hinder pro-Israel activists from highlighting the anti-Semitism of Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), as well as British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. This could ease their paths to re-election, since they would face less in the way of online opposition.
Moreover, Israel advocates may not be able to promote ads criticizing anti-Israel judicial rulings, like the recent decision by the European Court of Justice that dictated that Israeli goods produced in the disputed territories over the 1949 Armistice Lines must be labeled as “settlement” products (despite no similar labeling being mandatory for goods produced in over 200 other disputed territories worldwide).
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel would certainly be considered a legislative issue according to Twitter’s parameters, especially since it has been brought up before for debate in both Congress and the parliaments of other countries. Banning ads on legislative issues could potentially prevent activists from advocating against this evil movement that demonizes the Jewish state and aims for its ultimate destruction.
Some may argue that the new policy would harm the anti-Israel movement just as much as the pro-Israel community. But this argument is flawed.
While it may be true that both the pro-Israel and anti-Israel online communities are harmed by the policy, large news outlets will be exempt from it should they meet specific criteria. In the past, Twitter has defended exempting news outlets from certain transparency policies by arguing that they “report on these issues, rather than advocate for or against them.” In other words, Twitter has relied on the objectivity of these organizations. Yet, as so many in the pro-Israel movement know, news outlets are far from objective.
To make a long story short, pro-Israel activists simply do not trust the mainstream media anymore to be the gatekeepers of truth. Instead, they rely on their own hard work and ingenuity to reach the truth on their own, and then to spread it as widely as possible.
Love the decision or hate it, we in the pro-Israel community must be wary of this new development and how it may influence other social media platforms that follow suit. Time will tell how exactly the new policy will impact the pro-Israel movement. If it becomes apparent that Israeli advocacy is disproportionately harmed by it, we must mount a forceful verbal opposition.