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BuzzFeed, A New Platform For Government Public Diplomacy and Propaganda.

by on May 15, 2014

Social media is a platform for government public diplomacy, global communication, in turn propaganda.

In 2013, The Israeli embassy has broadened its strong public diplomacy efforts to include Twitter, Instagram and its American embassy (@IsraelinUSA) posted an article BuzzFeed, famous for viral and entertainment news. The Israeli embassy’s first Buzzfeed article focused on an intense subject, “Threats Facing Israel, Explained In One (Sort of Terrifying) Map,” which explained the alarming perils surrounding Israel. Which contrasts with Buzzfeed’s norm of light and entertainment based material found in the website’s community section, for example, “15 Ways That Cats Are Trying To Take Over Our Lives.”

The article and image tries to give an explanation of why Israel’s territory is under imminent threat by terrorist groups and neighbouring Middle Eastern countries. At face value, it suggests that the security threat is so intense that Israel’s Arab neighbors and Iran are the verge of sending nuclear bombs to Israel.

Image (BuzzFeed Screenshot of article)

The PR operatives who made the article anticipate negative critiques as the map hazes the line between actual risks and fictitious apocalyptic scenarios, uses of the phrase “sort of terrifying” and “Some may say the map is alarmist, but it is our geopolitical reality.”(BuzzFeed, The Atlantic)

Image

 The threat map posted on BuzzFeed by the Embassy of Israel. 

 The Israeli embassy was inspired by BuzzFeed’s tremendous popularity and an intention to attain maximum exposure, similar to other users. “We want to be where the people are, Buzzfeed, as a website, offers a platform friendly to virality, and we wanted to see where it could take us. So, we opened a community page and created a post. If the public goes to a new platform, or a new website, we will explore opportunities to engage with them there.” (Noam Katz, the Embassy of Israel’s public diplomacy minister, in an emailed statement to the Atlantic.) The Israeli embassy saw BuzzFeed as the best chance and platform for maximum exposure of “Israel’s perspective” of the Syrian crisis, into the public sphere in August 2013.  “We hope people see our goal for the post: It’s because of these threats, Israel is ever more committed to maintaining our existing peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt, and reaching an historic peace agreement with the Palestinians.” (Noam Katz) The BuzzFeed hosted and government issued propaganda attained more than 3,000 Facebook likes, over 400 Twitter shares and viewed over 23,000 times on BuzzFeed. The results would not have been as dramatic if the same post was just on the embassy’s own website.

Israel intends to continue to creating content on the platform, and suggested that it may attempt to be frivolous. “Looking at the virality and success of the current post, we’ll be back, who knows, maybe with lists, cats or something related to Miley.” (Noam Katz) The British embassy also started writing on BuzzFeed in August 2013, pushing cultural diplomacy in terms of British pop-culture, such as “11 Stats That Prove British Music Rules,” which seems “less at-odds with the objective reporting of BuzzFeed’s formidable foreign-news team, led by Miriam Elder, a former correspondent for The Guardian in Moscow.” (Ryan Jacobs)

The site has been questioned due to hosting of posts made by everyday users under the same banner of advocacy content, as users are joining the “community” section at a fast pace.  One week prior to Israel’s post on the site, BuzzFeed was criticised for “leading anti-abortion group, PersonhoodUSA, penned a listicle that claimed to itemize all the “offensive, appalling, and illegal things” Planned Parenthood has done.” (The Atlantic) User-generated items are not explicitly categorised as sponsored marketing content, which is a widespread online publishing practice. Any post within the community section has a small disclaimer underneath saying that “This post was written by a member of the BuzzFeed Community, where anyone can post awesome lists and creations.” (Ryan Jacobs) Which is misleading as it gives the impression that posts are staff written rather than propaganda by government publicists. Some readers were puzzled, “Since when does Buzzfeed act as a propaganda outlet for Israel?” (Ryan Jacobs) Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed failed to directly respond to questions about whether government-created content was inappropriate front page of the site promotion, or whether posts should be categorised distinguishing between government and users posts in the future. However, he was confident in the readers’ capability to distinguish between government and the staff-created content. “Our community has been growing at a crazy rate for the last couple of months, and we are always working to make it both technically better and easier to use, to consume and to share, and we are really excited about the new, growing platform. But we also trust our readers and increasingly sophisticated consumers generally to understand the different kinds of content on the web.” (Ben Smith) Richard W. Murphy argues the map by the Israeli government on BuzzFeed is an exaggeration, by standards of political PR, of threats from neighbouring Middle Eastern countries and Iran. “Government publicists often make comments about the threats in their neighbourhood, though I don’t recall so sweeping and cartoonish a presentation in official versions of the dangers as depicted in the map. . . but I think most readers will view the map/article as reflecting reality and not worry whether the author is a journalist or a government publicist.”(Richard W. Murphy) Meanwhile there aren’t any checks in place to stop the British Embassy from posting “a list of 12 good reasons why government secrecy is important.”(Ryan Jacobs)

 

Bibliography: 

1. Isreali Embassy, Threats Facing Israel, Explained in (Sort of Terrifying) Map. 28/08/2013 http://www.buzzfeed.com/israelinusa/threats-facing-israel-explained-in-one-sort-of-t-dwmv

1:Jacobs, Ryan, Israel and Buzzfeed, When government goes viral. 10/09/2013  http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/09/israel-and-buzzfeed-when-government-pr-goes-viral/279186/

 

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