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Friday, September 14, 2012

Social Media and the Mideast Crisis

Social media have played a central part in the unfolding crisis in the Mideast.  Politico reports:
The Internet tools of the Arab Spring have become the weapons of a new Arabian nightmare playing out at American diplomatic missions across North Africa and the Middle East.
Platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube that spread an obscure movie trailer depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad in offensive ways are facing a clamp-down from governments and even Internet companies in some cases.
Google-owned YouTube has blocked access to the video from inside Libya and Egypt. President Hamid Karzai has set up a firewall to prevent Afghans from viewing YouTube videos at all. And the U.S. Embassy in Cairo deleted its own tweets about the video after they became part of the political debate in the American presidential election.
The Atlantic reports:
American diplomat Larry Schwartz has gotten himself into some trouble this week. A senior public affairs officer at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Schwartz on Tuesday wrote a much-discussed memo stating that the embassy "condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims," as well as several defensive tweets, some of which he later deleted. For example: "This morning's condemnation (issued before protests began) still stands. As does condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy." Romney condemned the "apology," as he described it, and the White House quickly disavowed the memo.

State Department officials back in Washington, it turns out, had reviewed the memo and explicitly told Schwartz not to publish it, which he did anyway. "Frankly, people here did not understand it," a State Department official told Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin. "The statement was just tone deaf. It didn't provide adequate balance. We thought the references to the 9/11 attacks were inappropriate, and we strongly advised against the kind of language that talked about 'continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.'"

Tuesday's controversial tweets from the @USEmbassyCairo account, which Schwartz reportedly runs, were unusually provocative and political but otherwise generally consistent with the feed's noticeably conversational tone. American embassies across the globe have taken to Twitter over the last year or two, an impressive soft power outreach to citizens of foreign countries, but the Cairo feed has stood out. Other feeds, even when they tweet frequently, tend to take the staid tone of official diplomacy, tweeting press releases, quotes from U.S. officials, and relevant headlines. 
The Washington Post reports:
The White House asked YouTube on Tuesday to review an anti-Muslim film posted to the site that has been blamed for igniting the violent protests this week in the Middle East.
Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, said the White House has “reached out to YouTube to call the video to their attention and ask them to review whether it violates their terms of use.”

However, the video remained on the site as of Friday afternoon, and it is posted many other places on the Internet.
Messages to YouTube, and Google, which owns the site, were not immediately returned Friday. On Wednesday, a YouTube spokesperson said the video “is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube.”