Social-networking websites may have started out as online cliques where friends could swap opinions on music, pop culture and other bits of innocuous personal trivia. But as the conflict in Gaza has unfolded, it's becoming evident that sites like Facebook are increasingly being used to express political views, adding an acrimonious, even menacing undertone to what were once lighthearted online forums.
While Hamas rockets pummel southern Israel and Israeli bombs decimate Gaza, a parallel war is being fought in virtual communities. On Dec. 27, two hours after Israel began its military operation, Joel Leyden created a Facebook group called "I Support the Israel Defense Forces in Preventing Terror Attacks from Gaza." Leyden, an American who served with the Israeli military, says he has since received dozens of death threats via his Facebook inbox. "People were not just saying 'I hope you die!' but also asking, 'How do you want to die?' " says Leyden, who uses Facebook to alert people about potential attacks on synagogues. Meanwhile, Hamzeh Abu-Abed, who created a Facebook group titled "Let's Collect 500,000 Signatures to Support the Palestinians in Gaza," says he has received similar hate mail. "They said I am a terrorist who should die," says Abu-Abed, an accountant from Jordan. "We have been harassed by Zionists who hacked our group and called themselves the Jewish Internet Defense Force." (See pictures of chaos in the Middle East.)