Facebook Doesn’t Incite Palestinians, Reality Does

Facebook is not an accessory to terror because it allows Palestinians to vent their anger as an occupied community and even express support for what the attacks represent.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Credit: Bloomberg
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Mark Zuckerberg has blood on his hands. DNA testing performed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan proved that it’s the blood of Jews, murdered by terrorists who got their ideas and their appetite for murder from Facebook. “The younger generation in the Palestinian Authority, all its dialogue, all the incitement and lies it accumulates and finally goes out to commit murder, that happens on the Facebook platform,” Erdan said in an interview with Channel 2’s “Meet the Press.”

Erdan did not invent the charges against incitement. Incitement is known worldwide as a factor that can encourage terror, and no less important as a phenomenon the purpose of which is to legitimize terror. The question that Erdan does not answer is this: If the effect of Facebook and the rest of social media is so sweeping that they spur the younger generation of Palestinians to adopt terror as a means of action, how is it that all social media has managed to do is spark the “lone-wolf intifada” and the stabbing assaults? Why hasn’t broader protest started, as would be expected in a population where most of the young people use social media? What is stopping tens of thousands of Palestinian social media consumers from taking to the streets, demonstrating and committing stabbing attacks?

One of the answers is that social media, despite its wholesale use, have not really been able to spark mass action. Social media are not what engendered the Arab Spring, the revolt in Iran in 2009 or the revolution that never was against Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. Those who want to attribute to social media the power to harness others to action have to explain how the first and second intifadas broke out without them, and how the terror attacks of the 1970s and 1980s won legitimacy among the Palestinians.

The truth is that the answer to this question is found in what might be defined as “a reality that incites.” This is a reality shared by peoples under occupation, populations living in conditions of terrible distress where there is no need for incitement and encouragement to action. Reality is what incites them. Under such conditions a “community of distress” is created whose members are linked by one common denominator – the aspiration to get rid of the cause of their distress. In the case of the Palestinians that cause is the occupation.

These communities do not need the internet to know they are suffering distress, but it is through social media that they discover partners to their troubles. When it is reality itself that incites, most members of such a community do not take action themselves; they make do with passing on information, letting off steam and trying to survive. Those who carry out attacks or are killed in demonstrations, those who are prepared to risk their lives for such a community, win legitimacy as soldiers. It is not necessarily support for the attack but rather for what it represents.

In the same way one might wonder why racial incitement in Israel – the various versions of “The King’s Torah,” shouts from the right-wing rapper “The Shadow,” chants from Beitar Jerusalem soccer hooligans – do not bring masses of Jews into the streets to attack Arabs and do not even encourage more people to join the so-called “price tag” settler attacks. The answer is similar. Racism is perceived as legitimate because Jews feel that they are a community in distress living in a reality that incites. But in the final analysis, “price tag” actions are also a “lone-wolf intifada” that has earned public legitimacy despite all the tongue-clucking.

And so Erdan’s indictment of Facebook as an accessory to terrorists actually lashes out at Facebook for doing what it was intended to do in its very creation. Erdan is angry that Facebook allows Palestinians to strengthen their common denominator as an occupied community and empower its representatives on the ground. In this he joins a venerable group of leaders – Hosni Mubarak, who blacked out the internet; deposed Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali; Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who bans the use of Facebook; and Turkey’s Recip Tayyip Erdogan. Whoever shuts down Facebook, these leaders believe, destroys the community of distress and ensures his own rule.

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