Israeli officials on Tuesday denied claims that Israel had paid a pornographic Web site owner a “six-digit” sum for the @Israel Twitter account, saying it took control of the moniker in return for $3,000.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Jerusalem Post that the selling price was significantly lower than that originally asked by its owner, Miami-based Spanish citizen Israel Melendez, who also runs a porn Web site.

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“I won’t go into the details of the negotiations, but originally he asked for a five-digit sum and all we paid him was $3,000, period,” Palmor said.

Earlier, a New York Times story said Israel refused to divulge how much it paid, while the British Guardian claimed it had agreed to a six-digit price tag.

According to media outlets, Melendez opened the Twitter ID in 2007 but soon discovered he was often harassed by other users who thought it belonged to the Israeli government.

Melendez freed the account on August 26 at an agreed time, so that Israeli officials could simultaneously take control of it.

The transaction illustrates the increasing importance that governments and non-governmental organizations see in their digital presence.

Chaim Shacham, the diplomat in charge of the social media department at the Foreign Ministry, which now handles the @Israel twitter account, believes the price was a bargain.

“Within hours, we got thousands of new users,” he said. “Not only does it give the ultimate in Twitter recognition, but everything with the word Israel is brought up.”

Born in Chicago and a member of the diplomatic corps since 1986, the 49-yearold Shacham has been involved with Israel’s advocacy efforts on the Web since its early days.

“In 1994 I had the pleasure of getting www.Israel.org, but since then the [best] names were all taken,” he recalled.

As the head of the social media department, with 10 employees, he doesn’t feel Israel is lagging behind, he said, although he would like more resources.

Shacham remains critical of the power the Web wields over public opinion. While some observers argue that the Internet gives democracies a natural edge over non-democratic governments because it allows information to flow freely, undermining censorship, he said it can also work the other way.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Shacham said. “When you have a government speaking in one voice it can create clarity.

With Western governments there are always voices which support and those who object.

“However, one thing the Web is susceptible to is manipulation, especially with visual material. I think Israel has to work better with visuals.

The logicals [messages] are getting out, but we need to get better visuals out, too.”



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