Hamas announces its #AskHamas campaign on Twitter.
(photo credit: TWITTER)
If Osama bin Laden were alive today, would he have a Twitter account? There is a good chance he would, judging from the sorts of folks permitted to remain active on the online social networking service.
News of the horrific massacre of innocent restaurant- goers at Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market had barely broken when Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh took to Twitter to praise the murderers.
“One of the #TelAviv bomber heroes, mercy and light on the kindness of your soul,” the former Hamas prime minister tweeted in Arabic at 10:45 p.m. on June 8, alongside a picture of one of the attackers, “shot in the street.”
Haniyeh’s Twitter account has been active since March 2012, and has 314,000 followers.
And Haniyeh is not alone. Khaled Mashaal, Hamas’s leader, has had an account active since May 2015, now with 45,800 followers. The main Hamas Twitter page, active since October 2010, has 239,000 followers. It even has an English-language account to helpfully convey the organization’s support of shooting innocents at a shopping center, dubbing it “a natural response to Israeli crimes.”
Twitter has already taken significant steps to remove the Twitter accounts of Islamic State supporters. A study commissioned by Google Ideas and published by the Brookings Institution’s Project of US Relations with the Islamic World found that in 2014 and 2015, Twitter banned hundreds of accounts used by the most active IS supporters.
In January 2014, the US-based company also closed the English account operated by Hamas’s armed wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades. This was partly in response to a major letter-writing campaign launched by Christians United for Israel back in 2012. But while its primary Twitter handle “@alqassamBrigade” was closed, a second account, “@qassambrigade,” remained in operation.
More needs to be done.
The US government has designated Hamas as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Under 18 U.S.C. 2339A, it is illegal for any US company to provide “material support” to a terrorist organization. This prohibited material support specifically includes “services” and “communications equipment.” Since Twitter is an American company, it should abide by the law and ban Hamas from Twitter.
Some might argue that in the name of freedom of expression, it is preferable to err on the side of openness.
Closing down Twitter accounts could be a slippery slope that begins with terrorist organizations but lead to the banning of other forms of expression simply because they are distasteful or not part of the consensus.
We would retort, however, that Hamas’s use of Twitter is more about the weaponization of Internet platforms than about free speech. What does the glorification of terrorists who massacre civilians have to do with free speech? When terrorist organizations use platforms such as Twitter to recruit and inculcate terrorists to carry out attacks against civilians, democracies must defend themselves.
Graphic ISIS videos or photographs or Tweets that glorify terrorist acts should be likened to child pornography in that both actively seek to erase the humanity and autonomy of another, and in the process justify the most heinous of acts.
So while Twitter should continue to support freedom of expression and diverse perspectives, it should also adhere to its own rules governing what is permissible and what is incitement to violence.
Under a subcategory titled “hateful conduct,” Twitter states that “you may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or disease.”
When Hamas leaders such as Haniyeh praise terrorist attacks like the one in Sarona Market, they are promoting violence against human beings whose only “crime” is being Israeli. They are denying the very humanity of these individuals because of their national identity (Israeli) or religion (Judaism).
This a clear violation of Twitter’s own rules. The time has come for these rules to be enforced. This won’t stop terrorism. But it will help delegitimize terrorist organizations such as Hamas by preventing them from inciting to violence in the name of a bogus and cynical claim to free speech.