Many supporters of Israel have grown frustrated with hostile feedback posted to Web articles and on blogs since the start of Operation Cast Lead nine days ago. A group of Israeli students has decided to fight back.
HelpUsWin.org is manned by social media experts and Israel activists around the clock, with the main "situation room" based at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and sponsored by the Stand With Us education organization. Social media are primarily Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information.
Students and volunteers have been monitoring and responding to social media Web sites worldwide in several languages, to mount a public diplomacy offensive for Israel on the Internet.
"There is a misconception that the Internet is democratic, but that's far from the truth," said Alex Gekker, 24, a student in new media diplomacy at IDC and a volunteer at HelpUsWin headquarters.
"You can voice your opinion, but it doesn't mean anyone will listen. So we created HelpUsWin.org to give people a simple toolset to make a lot of noise," he said.
Gekker said that Jews and supporters of Israel want to fight the anti-Israel sentiment on Web sites worldwide, and the effort will be much more effective if it is organized and amalgamated.
HelpUsWin.org's main page includes a number of talking points and facts for people to use in their on-line efforts, such as the fact that Israel is not at war with the Palestinian people in Gaza, and has links to videos on YouTube that explain the situation from Israel's perspective.
Links to the news articles about the war are also provided, so that users can post positive talkbacks about Israel.
"This truly is Israel's first new media war," said Michael Dickson, director of Stand With Us International. "We've seen demonstrations and rallies around the world, and they have been really militant and extreme.
"We can engage with these people, but until now, we've been missing from the debate. We need to be offensive as well as defensive," Dickson said.
A cornerstone of this on-line campaign is a new feature called QassamCount, an application on social media sites Facebook and Twitter that automatically updates a user's status every time a rocket hits Israel. All of that user's friends will see the status update, which lists the location of the attack and the number of rockets fired.
Sasha Bratwa, 22, a new immigrant from Belgium and a communications student at IDC, heads the French-language on-line monitoring campaign. He wants to convey Israel's reality to the rest of the world.
"It's very hurtful and offensive to see that the world is not conveying what is happening in Israel, that there has been eight years of firing from Gaza into Israel," he said.
Bratwa said that people he has engaged on French blogs and talkbacks don't even know that Israeli civilians had been living under attack for almost a decade.
"The French do not believe that Israel has a right to exist," Bratwa said. "We are trying to explain on-line that we don't enjoy wars and having civilians die. It's our responsibility to show that we want peace."
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