The Foreign Ministry unveiled a new plan this week: Paying talkbackers to post pro-Israel responses on websites worldwide. A total of NIS 600,000 (roughly $150,000) will be earmarked to the establishment of an "Internet warfare" squad.
The Foreign Ministry intends to hire young people who speak at least one language and who study communication, political science, or law -- or alternately, Israelis with military experience gained at units dealing with information analysis.
Beyond the fact that these job requirements reveal a basic lack of understanding in respect to the dynamics of the online discourse -- the project's manager argued that "adults don't know how to blog" -- they are not too relevant either. An effective talkbacker does not need a law degree or military experience. He merely needs to care about the subject he writes about.
The sad truth is that had Israeli citizens believed that their State is doing the right thing, they would have made sure to explain it out of their own accord. Without being paid.
Foreign Ministry officials are fighting what they see as a terrible and scary monster: the Palestinian public relations monster. Yet nothing can be done to defeat it, regardless of how many foolish inventions will be introduced and how many bright communication students will be hired.
The reason is that good PR cannot make the reality in the occupied territories prettier. Children are being killed, homes are being bombed, and families are starved. Yet nonetheless, the Foreign Ministry wants to try to change the situation. And they have willing partners. "Where do I submit a CV?" wrote one respondent. "I'm fluent in several languages and I'm able to spew forth bullshit for hours on end."
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Any attempt to plant talkbacks online must fail. Especially if the State is behind it. Not only because it's easy to identify responses made on behalf of someone, but also because it's anti-democratic. When the Israel Electric Company or other companies do it, it's annoying. Yet when the State does it, it's dangerous.
Imposters on behalf of the government are threatening free discourse even if they only wander through the virtual space. The Internet was meant to serve as an open platform for dialogue between people, rather than as a propaganda means.
Something worrisome is happening here lately. We see the accumulation of silencing attempts. The Nakba Law, the bill calling for a ban on protests outside the homes of politicians, Lieberman's Loyalty Law, and the biometric information database. The free speech hunting season is on.
Thankfully we have the Internet, and it enables us to identify processes, discuss them, warn about them, and join forces against them. We can assume that soon we'll see the establishment of a website opposed to this new initiative, unless such site already exists. Perhaps even a group on Facebook. I wonder whether all its members will be Foreign Ministry agents, or whether it will also include some real people.
This is not a police state: This is a thought-police state.