Wednesday 11 September 2013

Not all stray tweets are funny

There's a must-read article at Honest Reporting called How to Libel Israel: A Case Study.

It gives a striking example of the potential for sheer mischief that can arise from a stray tweet. Unlike the humorous case of Ian Katz and Rachel Reeves, however, this one is deadly serious.

Ben Phillips, Campaigns and Policy Director for the politicised charity Oxfam, tweeted (on 8 September) about how the "blockade of Gaza" had prevented his charity from receiving some equipment to help provide clean water for Gazans. 

The usual anti-Israel suspects, led by the Electronic Intifada, swiftly pounced (thanks to Ben's willingness to engage with them) and anti-Israel websites and Twitterers began disseminating this latest story of Israeli wickedness around the world. 

However, a senior figure at Oxfam then contacted the Electronic Intifada to inform them that Mr Phillips had been the victim of either a mistranslation or a misunderstanding, and that the delay in receiving that equipment had nothing to do with the blockade. 

In other words, Ben's tweet was a crock of shite.  

It's to the credit of Oxfam that they 'fessed up, of course, and it's a good thing that they did so quickly because, as Honest Reporting notes 
How long would it have been before journalists from mainstream media decided to look into a story of Israelis denying Palestinians vital equipment necessary to provide clean water? Would the journalists have bothered to do some elementary fact-checking beyond relying on the quotes of, in their eyes, a reputable source from Oxfam?
It's not hard to imagine a Jon Donnison, a Wyre Davies or a Yolande Knell re-tweeting that original tweet, then setting out to follow it up and "finding" what they expected to find, with all the ill consequences for Israel's reputation that would follow from that.

Even as it is, harm has already been done. Millions of people will have already seen the original story, and 
Thanks to the Internet, a story libelling Israel will remain in perpetuity to be recycled by anti-Israel activists who either ignore or have not seen a correction.
A depressing thought.

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