In the Line of Fire

by Florence Broder

The weapons were not guns or grenades or even knives. Instead, they were armed with words and photos as the Jewish Agency Facebook page came under a cyber attack, as the Memorial Day Weekend came to a close and interest in the flotilla heated up. The vigilance and the velocity of the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic postings was a reminder that indeed the pen is mightier than the sword. The messages were violent, graphic, and used numerous four letter words in relation to Israel and Jews. Not even during Operation Cast Lead was there such a heated and aggressive response to our (Jewish Agency) page. I later found out we were not alone and many other pro-Israel organizations were attacked on Facebook. I even learned of another, Isramerica, whose website was hacked and was replaced with burning Israeli flags and more.

As I looked at the screen filled with hate flagging posts and fans to Facebook, I realized I couldn’t keep up. Questions arose about what the proper response should be. Late Monday, I decided to shut down the wall posting privilege to fans, thereby preventing other negative posts. However, they could still comment on anything I posted on the page. In the interest of transparency, I updated the fans on the status of the situation as follows:

Dear Fans,
Due to the flotilla incident in Israel today our Facebook page was vandalized with anti-Israel and anti-Jewish wall postings. For that reason, fan postings on the wall have been temporarily prohibited. We will do our best to remove comments with similar sentiments as soon as possible.
We love your comments and hope to restore the fan posting privilege as soon as possible. Thank you for understanding.

It was a difficult decision to make because it was undemocratic and not in the spirit of social media. Also, by taking the action, I was giving in to our attackers. However, our community’s response to the above update was overwhelmingly positive, over 100 supportive comments and “likes.”

Beyond the immediate response, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) assisted us by providing community guidelines for fans to post appropriate. While this was on my to-do list, it became a top priority.

Twitter was another animal, as the Jewish Agency and myself, as its voice, came under attack. It was difficult to exercise restraint because more than ever I wanted to stand up for what I believed in; I wanted to defend Israel. Yet, I had to balance the organizational voice and that was no easy task.

Questions & thoughts for next time

  • How could Facebook have responded better to the blatantly direct attacks? To date, I have not received any response from their staff about the banned fans or the reported posts. What could Facebook do to provide better recourse in such situations?
  • If you do not have community guidelines yet, then you should create some. You can even make it the landing page when people visit your page so they know what they are agreeing to.
  • It is critical to provide proper guidance and messaging to staff as they deal with volatile situations such as these. Be aware of their struggle with their own personal and organizational voices.
  • Make sure your website is hosted by a secure server and is properly pass-word protected to prevent it from being hacked.
  • As The New York Jewish Week noted in an article this week, the battle for Israel was fought on Twitter and social media. Should organizations “arm” themselves for the next battle? How do you stay true to your organization’s mission while doing it?
  • The one silver lining in all of this has been the increase in community responsiveness to content on Facebook and other social media portals. Clearly the media spotlight helped create those conditions, but how can this level of activity be maintained in the future?

I am truly awed and amazed by colleagues in the field who willing helped brainstorm or were simply an ear to vent. Do not hesitate to call on your peer network for support.

Florence Broder manages social media for the Jewish Agency for Israel.