The Electronic Intifada at the Allied Media Conference

We’re thrilled that many people joined us at Allied Media Conference 2013 in Detroit, where The Electronic Intifada hosted a session called “Palestine: Hunger Strikes and Social Media.”

Here are some of the issues and resources we talked about towards using web tools and social media to help build a successful advocacy campaign, emphasizing lessons learned from the Palestinian prisoner hunger strikes:

  • Personalizing the issue – showing that Palestinian prisoners are more than just statistics by telling their individual stories, like our profiles of Khader Adnan, Mahmoud Sarsak
  • Language and messaging and having a practical “ask” to encourage people to take action – social media is a means toward an end, not an end in itself
  • Letter-writing to prisoners, and other forms of direct solidarity, such as the blog where supporters wrote letters and messages to Khader Adnan and his family during his hunger strike. At the time people were writing these messages there were serious concerns that Khader Adnan might not survive and many people wanted to express what his resistance meant to them.
  • Another example of direct solidarity is the banner activists in Chicago sent to the Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer after an educational event on Palestinian prisoners.

We also hope to cover other relevant themes:

  • Cross-movement work – bringing the international issue home and connecting it to domestic struggles
  • Urgent action campaign vs. long-term campaigning
  • Engaging with mainstream media

The role of art and graphics

  • Data visualization, such as the Khader Adnan hunger strike infographic by Visualizing Palestine
  • Posters by graphic designer Hafez Omar played a key role in keeping up interest in the hunger strikes on Facebook, and were used by protesters in the street (see “Graffiti was my education”: interview with Palestinian designer Hafez Omar).

“Facebook is so open that it’s hard for Israel to stifle image-making there. They still use social media in similar ways, trying to build images for themselves. In the last war on Gaza they had a big failure, though. They worked as an institute that hires designers and writers to advocate, while the Palestinian part was individuals, normal people who were not being paid. People in the world believed our narrative because it was more natural.”

Extended interview with Hafez Omar on his poster art in support of the Palestinian hunger strikers on Jadaliyya.

Social media

This post discusses important tips such as:

  • Trending campaigns – when are they effective and when are they not? How do you engineer a successful trending campaign?
  • Planned spontaneity and controlled chaos: Coordination of publishing tweets at a designated time, whether through personal networks or contacting specific Twitter users whom they perceived as being “influential.”
  • Learning from the lessons of Occupy’s use of social media: What was successful, what wasn’t
  • Knowing Twitter’s rules regarding the use of hashtags
  • Khader Adnan, a Globally Trending Topic on Twitter

For activists, as the Electronic Intifada’s Jalal Abukhater put it, “organizing a trending hashtag for Khader Adnan is just like organizing a large protest on the corner of the busiest and most crowded street in a city.”

Campaign videos

Video: Chicago stands with Hana Shalabi

Video: Free Khader Adnan - Chicago, 8 February 2012

Trending Now: Call Me Maybe, Mardi Gras, Nascar

Shira Lazar, host of social media news briefs program “Trending Now,” discusses Khader Adnan’s hunger strike along with Justin Bieber and NASCAR.

Irish Hunger striker solidarity videos

In 1980-81 dozens of Irish political prisoners the struggle against British rule in Northern Ireland went on hunger strikes in Belfast’s Maze Prison . Ten died, the most famous of whom is Bobby Sands. The hunger strikes turned the Irish struggle into a cause with global attention and support.

Tommy McKearney was one of the Irish hunger strikers who released a video on 8 February 2012 in solidarity with Khader Adnan and other Palestinian prisoners.

Other Irish hunger strikers released their own videos in days that followed.

What’s the opposition doing?

Be aware of how the opposition is using the same tools. For example, Israel tries to project a positive image, justify its actions and counteract criticism using social media:

Ofir Gendelman is the Israeli Prime Minister Office’s spokesperson to Arab media, and he was one of the primary actors in confronting Palestinian social media activism for the hunger strikers.

In this tweet, he is reposting an excerpt from a video that had already been online for over five years and shows Khader Adnan paying tribute at the funeral of an Islamic Jihad military leader killed by Israel.

But these videos found little traction among people who were just learning about the hunger strike campaign. This may also be because Israel was demonizing Adnan while at the same time agreeing to release him.

Israel’s social media efforts can backfire, which has also provided an opportunity to draw attention to its human rights abuses.

One way that official, positive Israeli messaging has been undermined is by the frequent use of racist and violent language and imagery by its own soldiers and members of the Israeli public, on their personal social media accounts.

Some notable examples include:

Social media tips

These social media tips were copied from the advice given by [Students for Justice in Palestine].

Note: this post may be updated with additional resources.


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.