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The Pitfalls of “Twitter Journalism”

July 28, 2014

In an English article in Mida, Seth Frantzman went in depth on the origins of a troubling meme going around the press: that Hamas was not responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah. The origins of this meme are in an erroneous interpretation of a Tweet. The original Tweet, from a BBC correspondent, stated that the kidnappers and murderers were “Hamas affiliated” but not operating under Hamas leadership. For evidence, it cited an Israeli police spokesman. That statement snowballed into a new formulation: that the terrorists were a “lone cell” and that “Israel’s top leadership” said so. Many publications, including New York Magazine, ran with the story. Here is Frantzman’s takeaway:

The Israel Security Service (Shin Bet) spokesman and the Prime Minister’s Office have not confirmed or changed their view that Hamas is responsible. Meanwhile, Mickey Rosenfeld told me on Sunday “I said and confirmed what is known already, that the kidnapping and the murder of the teens was carried out by Hamas terrorists from Hebron area and the security organizations are continuing to search for the murderers.”  New York Magazine continues to carry its falsified headline and continues to provide claims about non-existent “officials.”
In the age of instant social media, the temptation to run with minimal and even distorted information for the sake of a “scoop” or to serve a cause is easier than ever, and the damage caused is far greater and faster than ever before. Especially in as emotive and controversial a field as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, professional journalists and analysts have a responsibility not to succumb to this temptation. Let this story be a cautionary tale for all who enter this minefield.

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