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IDF crackdown on soldiers’ social media activity a ‘problem of free speech’

Published time: March 26, 2013 10:35
Edited time: March 26, 2013 13:42
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Social media crazes in the Israeli military have seen a number of soldiers behaving in ways “unbecoming of the spirit of the IDF" – videos of soldiers dancing to Internet fads like the Harlem Shake could damage the IDF's image, officials said.

It is believed that viral videos run against the government's attempts to use social media as an effective propaganda tool. Although the IDF boasts its own official Facebook page and Twitter feed, there are fears that 'unauthorized’ materials could harm the image of the military where most young Israeli men and women aged 18 to 21 are required to serve.

“Just as the government uses social media for explaining, for campaigning, for propaganda or for spinning, it also has to deal with private soldiers using new media. Every soldier is a broadcast station,” Israel’s Center for the Protection of Democracy Executive Director Yizhar Be’er told RT.

Israeli military commanders have been recently told to prevent soldiers from uploading material “not appropriate” to the IDF’s “spirit.”

“It’s the problem of free speech… I don't see how you can control it,”
said Dr. Yuval Dror, head of digital media studies at the Middle East college of management-academic studies.

The punishment for such behavior “unbecoming of the spirit of the IDF" can be strict. Earlier this year, two soldiers were sent to military prison for several weeks for posting a clip of their artillery battalion performing a version of the Harlem Shake.

Screenshot from YouTube user אני גבר

“Under the military code of justice, there is an offense... I think it is sergeant and above... which says in effect any conduct which is unbecoming an IDF soldier would therefore potentially at least expose you to criminal liability. Could actually find yourself in jail if you made an offense under that,” former IDF legal advisor David Benjamin told RT.

IDF officials were also incensed when a group of soldiers turned their patrol in Hebron into a dance number: A video titled 'Battalion 50 Rock the Hebron Casbah' featured six armed soldiers in bulletproof vests who start a Macarena-like dance after a Muslim call to prayer is heard.

“You have to remember that soldiers are 18-year-old kids,”
Gil Yogev, who was once an officer with the paratroopers' unit, told RT. Yogev said he would brief his soldiers regularly about what they could and could not post online, but many were careless or childishly unaware of the impact such material could have.

“It is not misuse of power, for them it is just fun,” Yogev added.   

“I don't think that the dancing is abusing power, I do think that putting your sniper aim on an innocent person is an abuse of power and I think that this is the distinction that the army should make,” Yuval Dror said.

Screenshot from YouTube user ניר הירשמן

“You have to remember that soldiers are 18-year-old kids,” Gil Yogev, who was once an officer with the paratroopers' unit, told RT. Yogev said he would brief his soldiers regularly about what they could and could not post online, but many were careless or childishly unaware of the impact such material could have.

“It is not misuse of power, for them it is just fun,” Yogev added.   

“I don't think that the dancing is abusing power, I do think that putting your sniper aim on an innocent person is an abuse of power and I think that this is the distinction that the army should make,” Yuval Dror said.

Sacha Dratwa, the head of the IDF’s social media unit, sparked controversy when he uploaded a Facebook photo with dark mud from the Dead Sea smeared on his face, and a caption reading “Obama style.” The picture provoked mixed reactions, with some accusing the 26-year-old of racism. Dratwa claimed he had been misinterpreted.

Comments (16)

Anonymous user 03.04.2013 00:48

First time I see some army boys with some soul. doubt if Arabs have any at all. its not Islamic.

Anonymous user 28.03.2013 03:05

Seen the patrol video b4. Thought it was great & they were just elevating stress & bonding.

Anonymous user 27.03.2013 08:40

interesting that a autonomous non-profit organization somewhat depends on the government.

View all comments (16)
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