Harnessing the world-wide power of social media to spread and share good news, while fighting the many lies being spread
By Chandrea Serebro
You know how much you love Israel? Imagine you could do something to show her…without even leaving your house. That is just what the developers of the Act.IL app had in mind; an online platform that is creating a community to promote a positive influence on the international public opinion towards the State of Israel via social media platforms, explains Yaron Fishelson, Head of Product and Community for Act.IL, to show the world what she is really about. “Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime.”
Act.IL is a joint venture of the Israeli American Council (IAC) and the Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) Herzliya, born out of the IDC’s ‘Situation Room’ that was founded during Operations Pillar of Defence in 2012 and Protective Edge in 2014. As its name suggests, this was a situation room powered by IDC students who worked tirelessly during these Israeli Operations to provide an immediate response to all the lies and falsehoods on the internet and social media, to put the facts about Israel out there, and promote Israel’s actions from the Israeli point of view. This saw over 1 000 volunteers (students and lay-people) do their bit to further this vision, with material being translated into over 35 languages. And then, the realisation that all of this wasn’t enough; that despite being a hive of pro-Israel activity and sharing real successes in times of crisis, this vision had to extend beyond this to an everyday, on-going battle to change perceptions about Israel.
“We realised that there are so many people out there who want to help, but who think that, because they are not experts in the field, there is nothing that they can do. We also realised that we can be so effective when people come together in pursuit of the same vision.” So they sought to create a solution for this, a tool that would be simple and accessible to the pro-Israel online community. “It’s a first of its kind app – crowd sourcing pro-Israeli activists worldwide,” says Yaron, creating a body of people who support Israel, both Jewish and non-Jewish alike, and leveraging the power of communities to support Israel’s image and fight against the demonisation of Israel.
The app, available on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, lets you create your own profile and select a mission from a list of missions that all have the same end goal – to promote Israel. “Here in Herzliya, on a daily basis, we have staff and interns as part of the Public Diplomacy study programme at IDC who not only trawl the Web using Open Source technology, but also take information from the Act.IL community and various organisations with which we are affiliated, and they create different missions out of what is happening on social media and around the world for people to take on.” It is online activism – doing and creating pro-Israel online ‘missions’, such as: reporting pages that incite, sharing content, signing petitions, commenting on articles in order to increase the pro-Israel presence online, liking them if they give a broader view of the issues or if they present the other side of the story or are pro-Israel, and correcting headlines if they are false. And it is effective – “every day we have at least one top comment on a major news source, or have removed a page that is about incitement to terror and anti-Semitic content.” The reception has been positive, with over 13 000 people active on the app in 41 different countries between the ages of 14 and 85, and a mission being completed on the app less than every five minutes.
“And it is not all about negative reactions or fighting for what is right – the team also found that people don’t know the basics of what Israel is about, so we also encourage positive actions to educate people about Israel,” says Yaron. The beauty is that while it is an app that functions online, the ripple effects do not stay online and the impact that it is having moves out into real life. “In Australia, a tattoo and piercing shop refused to serve Israelis, and when confronted by a local Jewess the owner cited a distaste for ‘the occupation’ and the ‘apartheid state’. This made the news, and Act.IL decided to issue a call-to-action, and through the workings of the online community of Act.IL, the shop’s Facebook relevance score went down from 4,6 to 1,3 – and, after a few days, in a follow-up news story, the owner admitted that he didn’t realise he would offend so many people.”
Act.IL uses the app to achieve its goals, but also creates original content that reaches millions of people around the world, showing the beautiful face of Israel. They also offer professional training or simulation to the pro-Israel community to give people the tools to be active online in an effective way and successful at organised online activism – and they have offered successful training to over 5 000 people from the US, Europe, and locally in Israel. Another way that they achieve their end-goal is by managing a host of media rooms (local Act.IL chapters) to empower and engage the entire local community in that area to act for the State of Israel on social media platforms. “We are helping local communities create their own network and their own operation which we can guide and mentor them through,” to positively inform and influence foreign publics and create an efficient and effective battle against the growing trend of the boycott movement (BDS) and the delegitimisation of the State of Israel.
“We currently have media Rooms in 5 locations: New-York, Philadelphia, Boston, New Jersey, and Orange County. The Media Rooms work with all local Israel supporters – people from all ages, Jewish or not. We understand that the online community is stronger when it also has a physical presence and are seeking to open new ones in other locations around the world. This also facilitates round-the-clock activity as they operate in different time zones, which means no down time in the pursuit of the truth.” And, by creating connections around the world, which they are doing every day, particularly in communities where there is a need “like Europe and South Africa”, says Yaron, their presence is becoming felt. Only when it enhances the agenda though, because one of the most unique aspects of the Act.IL activity is their no-logo strategy, which allows any organisation or body to use the content put out by Act.IL without their distinct pro-Israel agenda attached to it. “This makes it easier than ever to reach audiences that aren’t necessarily pro-Israel, since they look at the content without a bias that is based on who created that content.”
It’s a movement you don’t want to miss, a group of ordinary and extra-ordinary people and virtual like-minded friends who are giving you the chance to give Israel your love by showing the opposition and also the world what she is all about.
For more information, visit: act-il.com. Download the app from both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, and the desktop version at app.act-il.com