Students at the Israeli military’s Computing and Cyber Defense Academy. Israel is also “scouring Jewish communities abroad for young computer prodigies willing to join its ranks.”
Numerous well funded, organized projects by and for Israel work to flood social media with pro-Israel propaganda, while blocking facts Israel dislikes. The projects utilize Israeli soldiers, students, American teens and others, and range from infiltrating Wikipedia to influencing YouTube. Some operate out of Jewish Community Centers in the U.S.
By Alison Weir
Recently, YouTube suddenly shut down the If Americans Knew YouTube channel. This contained 70 videos providing facts-based information about Israel-Palestine.
People going to the channel saw a message telling them that the site had been terminated for “violating YouTube guidelines”—implying to the public that we were guilty of wrongdoing. And ensuring they didn’t learn about the information we were trying to disseminate.
When we tried to access our channel, we found a message saying our account had been “permanently disabled.” We had received no warning and got no explanation.
After five days, we received a generic message saying YouTube had reviewed our content and determined it didn’t violate any guidelines. Our channel became live once more.
So why was it shut down in the first place? What happened and why?
As it turns out, Israel and Israeli institutions employ armies of Internet warriors—from Israeli soldiers to students—to spread propaganda online and try to get content banned that Israel doesn’t want seen.
Perhaps like our videos of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.
A few days before the termination of our channel, we received a form email from YouTube, telling us we had gotten “one strike” for a short video about a Palestinian man killed by Israeli soldiers. The video was part of our series of videos to make Palestinian victims, usually ignored by US media, visible to Americans.
It takes three minutes to view the video and see that it contains nothing objectionable, unless revealing cruelty and oppression is objectionable:
YouTube’s email claimed we had somehow violated their long list of guidelines but did not tell us which one, or how. It simply stated:
“Your video ‘Ahmad Nasser Jarrar’ was flagged for review. Upon review, we’ve determined that it violates our guidelines. We’ve removed it from YouTube and assigned a Community Guidelines strike, or temporary penalty, to your account.”
Such a penalty is not public and does not terminate the channel.
Three days later, before we’d even had a chance to appeal this strike, YouTube suddenly took down our entire channel. This was done with no additional warnings or explanation.
This violated YouTube’s published policies.
YouTube policies say there is a “three-strike” system by which it warns people of alleged violations three times before terminating a channel. If a channel is eventually terminated, the policies state that YouTube will send an email “detailing the reason for the suspension.”
None of this happened in our case.
We submitted appeals on YouTube’s online form, but received no response. Attempts to find a phone number for YouTube and/or email addresses by which we could communicate with a human being were futile.
YouTube’s power to shut down content without explanation whenever it chooses was acutely apparent. While there are other excellent video hosting sites, YouTube is the largest one, with nearly ten times more views than its closest competitors. It is therefore enormously powerful in shaping which information is available to the public–and which is not.
We spent days working to upload our videos elsewhere, update links to the videos, etc. Finally, having received no response or even acknowledgment of our appeal from YouTube, we decided to write an article about the situation. We emailed YouTube’s press department a list of questions about its process. We have yet to receive any answers.
Finally that evening we received an email with good news:
“After a review of your account, we have confirmed that your YouTube account is not in violation of our Terms of Service. As such, we have unsuspended your account. This means your account is once again active and operational.”
Our channel was visible once more. And YouTube had now officially confirmed that our content doesn’t violate its guidelines.
Ultimately, the YouTube system seems to have worked, in our case. Inappropriate censorship was overruled, perhaps by saner or less biased heads. In fact, we felt that there might at least be one positive result of the situation—additional YouTube employees had viewed our videos and perhaps learned much about Israel-Palestine they had not previously known.
But the whole experience was a wakeup call that YouTube can censor information critical of powerful parties at any time, with no explanation or accountability.
Israeli soldiers paid to “Tweet, Share, Like and more”
Israel and partisans of Israel have long had a significant presence on the Internet, working to promote the Israel narrative and block facts about Palestine, the Israel lobby, and other subject matter they wish covered up.
Opinionated proponents of Israel post comments, flag content, accuse critics of “antisemitism,” and disseminate misinformation about Palestine and Palestine solidarity activists. Many of these actions are by individuals acting alone who work independently, voluntarily, and relentlessly.
In addition to these, however, a number of orchestrated, often well-funded projects sponsored by the Israeli government and others have come to light. These projects work to place pro-Israel content throughout the Internet, and to remove information Israel doesn’t wish people to know.
One such Israeli project targeting the Internet came to light when it was lauded in an article by Arutz Sheva, an Israeli news organization headquartered in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
The report described a new project by Israel’s “New Media desk” that focused on YouTube and other social media sites. The article reported that Israeli soldiers were being employed to “Tweet, Share, Like and more.”
The article noted, “It is well known nowadays that what happens on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has great influence on events as they occur on the ground. The Internet, too, is a battleground.” It was “comforting,” the article stated, to learn that the IDF was employing soldiers whose job was specifically to do battle on it.