The Thin Red Terms Of Service

Do the Israel Defense Forces videos and photos of its assault on Hamas belong on social media? Sometimes the social media services themselves don’t know.

The terms of service for most social media sites and services almost universally ban prohibit violence. Which makes the Israeli Defense Force’s live-tweeting, YouTubing and Flickring of its assault on Gaza potentially problematic.

Twitter, for instance, bans “violence and threats”: “You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.” This seems like a direct, specific threat of violence. YouTube’s community guidelines warn, “Graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed. If your video shows someone being physically hurt, attacked, or humiliated, don’t post it.” This video shows a man being killed. Facebook’s terms say, “You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” (Bold is mine.) But the IDF regularly posts things like this poster celebrating the death of Ahmed Jabari, which could very well incite violence.

These issues are complicated, and services are clearly wrestling with how to deal with it, illustrated most pointedly by YouTube’s back-and-forth response. As Peter Kafka reported, YouTube temporarily took down Israel’s assassination video. It put it back up a few hours later, saying that pulling it was a mistake: “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it.”

When YouTube pulled the clip of the IDF assassinating Ahmed Jabari, IDF’s tweet switched to an embed of a song from the band A Perfect Circle, “Counting Bodies Like Sheep.”

Twitter has pointedly refused to make any kind of comment so far, but the IDF’s most aggressive posts remain up, as well as those from the Alqassam Brigade, promising the “beginning of liberation war and ominous harbinger on sons of Zion.” Facebook confirmed to Mike Isaac that it “will not be taking action on the current content posted.”

So far, I think leaving this content up is the right call: It’s brutal, it’s propaganda — it’s war — but it’s also important. I suspect this is precisely why these social networks, despite the apparent violation of their terms of service, are leaving this stuff up. We’re witnessing a country and its opponent document their own war against each other in real time. This has never been done before, not like this. Good, bad, or ugly, this shouldn’t be pulled from the light of day.

In the worst case, as Mike Isaac points out, one option for Twitter — and other services — might to be block the content in specific regions to minimize its potential to cause violence in certain parts of the world, as it did for Neo-Nazi tweets in Germany. But right now, everybody is a part of this moment, and trying to hide that fact won’t change it.

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