Israel and Hamas battle on social media as well

Associated Press Modified: November 15, 2012 at 8:01 pm •  Published: November 15, 2012
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Tamir Sheafer, chair of the political communication program at Hebrew University, said the embrace of social media by both sides indicates recognition that "you don't win conflicts like this one on the ground; you win it through public opinion."

But the use of social media for public diplomacy is also a double-edged sword, says Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington.

"On the one hand, Israel has gotten better in conveying their messages to the public, but on the flip side, we're seeing flippant remarks. Twitter accounts can be used carelessly and there's a danger of overplaying things, which they might be doing," he said.

"They also might be falling into the trap of thinking they have their public relations covered, but really, it's their policy and not their tweets that matters at the end of the day," Sachs added.

YouTube had removed the Hamas assassination video after concluding the clip violated its terms of service. The site's reviewers later reconsidered that decision and restored the video Thursday.

"With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call," YouTube said in a statement.

Buchman, the Israeli military spokesman, said there was no official comment, except that "we're glad they reconsidered that decision."

Google tries to ensure that the clips on YouTube obey disparate laws around the world and adhere to standards of decorum while also protecting the principles of free speech. It's a mind-boggling task, given more than 100,000 hours of video is sent to YouTube every day.

YouTube routinely blocks video in specific countries if it violates local laws. It also removes video deemed to violate standards primarily designed to weed out videos that infringe copyrights, show pornography or contain "hate speech."

Given that YouTube isn't regulated by the government, Google is within its legal rights to make its own decisions about video. Nevertheless, some people believe Google should always fall on the side of free expression because YouTube has become such an important forum for opinion, commentary and news.

A video showing an assassination arguably falls in a gray area of whether it is a news event or a gratuitous act of violence.

This isn't the only assassination that can be watched on YouTube. Numerous clips on YouTube replay the fatal shooting of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963, including his gruesome head wound.

Google doesn't share details about how its video reviews are conducted, but it employs an unknown number of reviewers who regularly scan the site for violations of local laws and the company's guidelines.

Google discussed its approach to Internet content in a November 2007 blog post that came about a year after buying YouTube for $1.76 billion.

"We have a bias in favor of people's right to free expression in everything we do," wrote Rachel Whetstone, Google's director of global communications and public affairs, "We are driven by a belief that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual. But we also recognize that freedom of expression can't be — and shouldn't be — without some limits. The difficulty is in deciding where those boundaries are drawn."

Usually, the decisions are dictated by the law in the more than 100 different countries where Google's services are offered. The laws in some countries prohibit material that would seem tame in other countries. For instance, Brazil prohibits video ridiculing political candidates in the three months leading up to an election, while Germany outlaws content featuring Nazi paraphernalia.

In the first half of this year alone, Google said it received more than 1,700 court orders and other requests from government agencies around the world to remove more than 17,700 different pieces of content from its services.

The company rejects many of these demands. For instance, Google says it complied with less than half of the U.S. court orders and government orders take down nearly 4,200 pieces of content from January through June.

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AP Technology Writer Michael Liedtke in San Francisco contributed to this report.