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What's the hashtag for terror? For propaganda? I've been talking about the role of social media as a possible enabler of political violence for years. In my June 2009 talk at Mobile Monday in Amsterdam, I argued that Twitter and similar media had the potential to serve a role similar to the radio stations used to drive the 1990s Rwandan genocide. I went into more detail on the idea in this article at Fast Company a short while later.
In noting the potential power of social networking tools for organizing mass change, I thought out loud for a moment about what kinds of dangers might emerge. It struck me, as I spoke, that there is a terrible analogy that might be applicable: the use of radio as a way of coordinating bloody attacks on rival ethnic communities during the Rwandan genocide in the early 1990s. I asked, out loud, whether Twitter could ever be used to trigger a genocide. The audience was understandably stunned by the question, and after a few seconds someone shouted, "No!" I could only hope that the anonymous reply was right, but I don't think he was. [...]

At the end of my brief exploration on this idea at Mobile Monday, I asked--in a bit of gallows humor--what the hashtag would be for something like genocide. The audience's nervous laughter reflected my own recognition that this wasn't an entirely rhetorical question. I'm sad to say that we're almost certain to get an answer, probably far sooner than we'd like.

The Israeli Defense Forces has taken to Twitter to drive its narrative of the current conflict in Gaza. Using hashtags (including "#PillarOfDefense") to shape the conversation, the IDF isn't trying to play the role of a neutral observer here, unsurprisingly. This seemed too close a parallel to go unremarked. One tweet in particular stood out to me: This isn't the first time we've seen this kind of use of social media, and it certainly won't be the last. Pro-Israel/IDF, pro-Palestine/Hamas, it doesn't matter here: this is a step forward in what we might term the "weaponization of social media" -- the use of Twitter and similar platforms as a parallel battlefield, trying not just to direct the global narrative but to shape the outcome of the fight, as well.

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