It’s a tough crowd out there on Twitter, particularly when you wade into anything related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Our former staff writer Sharon Udasin, who now covers animals, scientific innovation and the environment for The Jerusalem Post, learned that the hard way Monday when one of her tweets generated a firestorm of criticism, mockery, an unfavorable al-Jazeera mention and even some death threats.
The offending tweet: “Does anyone have pets who are freaking out because of the rocket sirens? If so, please contact me for a story. Thanks! #jpost”
Perhaps not surprisingly, given that Gaza’s death toll from Operation Pillar of Defense reached 95 that day (100, according to Hamas), many Palestinians and those sympathetic to them interpreted her message as evidence that Israelis care more about cats and dogs than about human beings, at least Palestinian ones.
Among the tweets in response: “oh,my heart goes out 2 your pets!maybe try 2 get in touch with your human side&write about civilians your rockets are killing?”
Another: “Children are being murdered in #Gaza, and the Jerusalem Post is running a story about puppies in Ashdod afraid of sirens. OK.”
Meanwhile, Sharon, who knew that “plenty of other reporters were covering human civilian suffering and hardship from all angles,” had simply been trying to pull together a story on deadline within the confines of her beat.
“Looking at how people handle and interact with their animals during troublesome times, when an entire family may only have 15 seconds to run to a shelter, is simply a sample of life on the home front – as life goes on, how do people integrate their normal routines with the blaring sirens that interrupt them every few hours?” she explained, in an e-mail to The Jewish Week.
Sharon’s Twitter controversy attracted more sympathetic attention from The Atlantic Wire, whose writer concluded:
If anything, this episode illustrates the dangers of crowd-sourcing your stories online. While Twitter can be great for gathering tips, it can also make it difficult to explain where you’re going with something in just 140 characters. When the story is controversial, not everyone will see it your way— particularly in a conflict as divisive and heated as this one—and they won’t hesitate to pick a fight. By asking for help the way she did, Udasin opened herself up to attacks, even if some of the attacks have little to do with the relevance of her story.
In her e-mail to The Jewish Week, Sharon said:
Aside from the death wishes – and even a few blatant threats – the most common attack against me was people claiming that I was putting the lives of Israeli dogs over those of Palestinian babies dying in Gaza by writing this article. If this were true, then I would definitely say that the attackers had valid points – as I most certainly value human life over that of animals, as much as I love animals. However, their claims could not be farther from the truth. I was simply contributing an additional perspective on the side effects of an ongoing conflict, while other reporters were doing an excellent job detailing the human pain.
Going forward, I may be a little bit more cautious on Twitter because you are opening up yourself to an entire world as your audience, including those who may take your comments differently than you intended.
While this subject of cats and dogs was just skimming the surface of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I have learned that anything that even touches on these issues can potentially create a sounding board for people who want their voices heard — even if their comments are irrelevant to the subject at hand, as occurred in this case.