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Hashtags, Periscopes and Vines take over Israel’s Foreign Ministry

By Noga Tarnopolsky | The Media Line

May 10, 2016

MIDEAST STREETS ™
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Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon offers media “less propaganda, more deep and truthful discourse”

[Jerusalem] Ideally, this entire article would be composed of no more than 140 carefully chosen and tweeted characters.

If that were to prove impossible, the next best option would be for it to be comprised of an interlocking series of 140 character blurbs constituting a tweetstorm.

Barring that, we’ll do our best using an old-fashioned format. The Israeli foreign ministry today hosted an auditorium full of eager journalists, both foreign and local, and senior Twitter executives who were in Israel to announce a $250,000 award to whoever engineers the best global ads api (application program interface: a set of routines, protocols and tools for building software applications) promoted by the hashtags #startupnation #innovation #promoteprize.

According to Rowan Barnett (@rowbar), Twitter’s Senior Director for Media for countries outside of the United States, this was the first such launch and the first event of its type held in conjunction with a foreign ministry.

Israel’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, launched a scheme for anyone tweeting a pro-Israel message accompanied by the hashtag #IsraelRetweetedMe. Every message chosen would be retweeted by the State of Israel’s 148 official twitter feeds, some of which are followed by hundreds of thousands of people. The first beneficiary was Guy Levy, a technology writer for the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, who started out on Sunday with 250 followers and twenty-four hours later had multiplied that by ten. “I started out addicted to Facebook,” he said, sounding like a recovering alcoholic, and echoing many Israelis, “but now I’ve been turned on to twitter.”

People like him, prominent journalists who were still unaware of the tool that Twitter is, with close to a billion monthly viewers, were the reason behind the conference held in the ministry’s sparkling auditorium.

Elad Ratson, (@EladRatson) the ministry’s director of R&D for Digital Diplomacy, told The Media Line the conference was a “trial balloon. Twitter was not doing as well as it should have been in Israel, and we thought that even with all the developers and active journalists here, nothing could give the value that a sovereign effort could. So we asked Twitter to let us try to bring all sides together.”

Eli Schlesinger, a senior writer at the hot Israeli ultra-Orthodox news site “Hadrei Hadarim” noted that “tweets in Hebrew are tweets only for Israelis,” getting orders of magnitude fewer retweets than those in English, which can be a discouragement for non-native speakers of English. That said, he told The Media Line, “it’s hard to get it all in under 140 characters but it’s an extremely useful tool. Today I’m completely addicted.”

There was something of a revivalist ambience to the gathering, with newly-converted tweeters rapidly retweeting posts from veterans such as the Israeli daily Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent, Barak Ravid, who has over 70,000 followers, and Tal Schneider, who has parlayed her more than 55,000 into the Plog, Israel’s leading political blog.

Schneider’s advice to budding tweeters was: be authentic, know your facts, abandon cynicism. The service, which allows for the immediate posting of single messages consisting of 140 characters or bursts of message, and which allows users to conduct searches based on hashtagged subjects such as #Trump, is growing exponentially, especially in the area of live stream videos.

When you see, as thousands did at the time of the Paris attacks, the shaky, live images of police staking out the site of a terror attack, it is more than likely that you are watching an image posted onto Periscope, a Twitter subsidiary, which allows for the immediate streaming of video onto Twitter platforms. Hashtag #Parisattacks and most of the world’s news networks will be following.

Barnett told the gathered crowd that he was part of local history: the recently deceased Lord George Weidenfeld, a renowned British public figure and publisher, and Cabinet Secretary to Israel’s first president Chaim Weizmann, was his maternal grandfather.

“There is so much innovation here,” he told The Media Line. “We launched the contest in Israel in the hope of reaching out to all of the developers here.”

Asaf Ronel, the foreign news editor for Haaretz, told The Media Line “it was an informative and interesting event regarding the new possibilities Twitter is developing for journalists. I enjoyed their optimism about Twitter’s penetration into Israel though I have to say I’m not yet convinced.”

Skepticism is, of course, the province of most reporters. Emmanuel Nahshon, the foreign ministry spokesperson, told The Media Line, “it was very important for us to meet with senior Twitter executives and with Israeli journalists in a non-political forum. It is something we should do a lot more of.”

“Less propaganda, more deep and truthful discourse,” he added, specifying “you can use that.”

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