Hamas Uses Social Media to Crackdown on Dissent Amid Fears of Egypt Chaos Spillover
The protests that left more than 500 dead yesterday in Egypt have understandably put Hamas on its toes, with the terrorist organization and political ruler of Gaza fearing that yesterday’s spiral of violence could spread into the coastal territory it controls.
To crackdown on would-be revolutionaries and stem the flow of discontent, Hamas has tightened its reign on free speech by closely monitoring social media accounts in Gaza, Al Monitor reported on Thursday.
According to a report on Arab social media published by the Dubai School of Government in July 2012, 21.2% of Palestinians have Facebook accounts, while other media reports claim the number is actually as high as 40%, Al Monitor said.
Al Monitor interviewed “Youssef,” a young Palestinian who says he has been arrested once and interrogated five times in recent months.
“I was arrested and summoned for interrogation as a result of joining the youth political movement. It seemed that most of the information the investigators had about me was from articles and comments I had published on Facebook,” he said.
According to Al Monitor, “Youssef is a Palestinian youth who spends long hours on social media as an outlet to connect with a young audience and publish articles refuting the narratives and positions of the Hamas government. He gets reactions and comments from more than 4,000 friends.”
Shlomo Brom, Senior Research Fellow at The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Algemeiner in an email that Hamas’s close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is at the center of the unrest in Egypt, make Gaza susceptible to similar protests.
“As a result of the events in Egypt, Hamas is concerned that the rebellion against the Muslim Brotherhood government (Tamarud – that is the name of the rebellion movement in Egypt) will spread to the Gaza Strip,” he said. “They wish to deny the opposition in the Gaza Strip the use of social media as a means for organizing such a rebellion.”
An anonymous source told Al-Monitor that the Hamas government’s Internal Security Agency has formed a special unit to monitor social media and measure “incitement” against the group.
The source explained that social-networking sites, especially Facebook, are an important source of security information. From Facebook, the authorities can know where and when an activity will be taking place and prepare to confront it.
Hamas’s fears are not without precedent. On March 15, 2011, youth activists used social media to organize large rallies denouncing the rift between Hamas in Gaza and rival political party Fatah based in the West Bank.
The targets of the crackdown go beyond pro-active citizens and have included journalists who cover Hamas. Journalist Emad Drimly, the office director of the Chinese news agency Xinhua in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that he received a death threat after publishing what was perceived to be a message in support of deposing Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi to his Facebook account.
“We have several means to maintain security in the Gaza Strip, which many are trying to penetrate. The youth are easily penetrated security-wise by means of the social-networking sites. We are making great efforts to reach everything that could be considered a security threat from all sides,” Drimly told Al Monitor.
Hamas’s paranoia extends to Israeli intelligence, who it accused of trying to recruit agents in Gaza through social-networking sites, using false names to lure the potential agents with financial and sexual incentives.
“Israeli intelligence is exploiting the social-networking sites to gather information about citizens and blackmail them into spying,” read an interior ministry statement from May 2012.
But Hamas’s main concern appears to still internal control. Says Youssef: “The social-networking sites, especially Facebook and Twitter, are a dangerous weapon that is feared by the various governments in the Arab countries, including in Gaza, because it allows fast communication among young people. The Arab revolts have raised the security apparatuses’s fear of the effects.”