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Israel's internet Iron Dome: How high-tech algorithms promote Israel and 'muffle' pro-Palestine voices online

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David Cox
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The code is part of a platform that boosts positive social media posts, photos, news reports and opinion articles that promote Israel – whether that be its booming tech scene or its beautiful beaches – and plays down posts featuring Israeli checkpoints or Palestinian prisoners.

Elad Ratson, the head of research and development for the digital diplomacy department at the foreign ministry, cannot explain exactly the second part of the platform, which works to "muffle" pro-Palestinian voices in social media, but said that it is a continuation and an upgrade from efforts undertaken during the Israel-Gaza war in 2014, when students set up a "situation room" at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

In August, 2014, the social media search engine Topsy found the Gaza hashtag was used more than four million times, whereas the Israel one had been used 170,000 times – the most dramatic online example of Israel's "asymmetric numbers game", said Ratson, in which the number of dead Palestinians has always exceeded Israeli casualties, and has therefore led the stories online and in the press, he argued.

A sign painted on a wall in the West Bank in June 2015, calling to boycott Israeli products coming from Jewish settlements

To meet the growing demand for an online presence, both during times of war and times of peace, Ratson is in collaboration with the Rothschild Fund and other private pro-Israeli organizations, to scour high schools, universities, and private tech companies in both Israel and abroad to participate in an upcoming collaboration project slated to launch in the autumn.

Its shortcoming may be explained by the fact that the foreign ministry is led by Netanyahu instead of a full-time minister, who has done little to rein in public diplomacy catastrophes like that initiated by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who earlier this year defied protocol and banned all Swedish officials after its foreign minister demanded an investigation into Israel's extrajudicial killings of assailants during the "knife intifada".

In the coming weeks, Israel and its colleagues will open the university's first peace-time "situation room," manned by 20 students and funded by private stipends, and which it hopes will be followed by similar initiatives in Los Angeles and throughout the rest of the world.

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