The threat map that the Israeli embassy posted on BuzzFeed (Embassy of Israel)
The Israeli embassy told The Atlantic that its decision to join the BuzzFeed community was motivated by the site's extreme popularity and, much like the other users on the site, a desire to receive maximum exposure. "We want to be where the people are," Noam Katz, the Embassy of Israel's minister of public diplomacy, wrote in an emailed statement. "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."
With the crisis in Syria unfolding, the embassy saw a perfect opportunity to insert "Israel's perspective" into the news conversation with the late-August post. "It may not be light, but it’s important," Katz wrote. "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."
The government-issued, and BuzzFeed hosted, propaganda has received more than 3,000 likes on Facebook, more than 400 shares on Twitter, and has been viewed more than 23,000 times. If the content had just been posted to the embassy's own website instead, the results would have been nowhere near as dramatic. Israel said it will continue to create content on the network, and suggested that it may even offer something a bit more frivolous. "Looking at the virality and success of the current post, we’ll be back," Katz wrote. "Who knows, maybe with lists, cats or something related to Miley."
Israel is not the only foreign government posting to the site; the embassy of the United Kingdom began writing there in mid-August. Its pop-culture dispatches, including "11 Stats That Prove British Music Rules," seem less at-odds with the objective reporting of BuzzFeed's formidable foreign-news team, which is led by Miriam Elder, a former correspondent for The Guardian in Moscow.
As users continue to join the "community" section of the site at a rapid pace, the site has faced questions over its hosting of advocacy content under the same banner as posts generated by everyday users. A week before Israel's post ran on the site, the news site was criticized after a leading anti-abortion group, Personhood USA, penned a listicle that claimed to itemize all the "offensive, appalling, and illegal things" Planned Parenthood has done.
When user-generated items appear on the front page of the site, they aren't explicitly labeled -- as, for example, is sponsored marketing content (a widespread practice in online publishing, including at The Atlantic). If a reader clicks on a link created by a third-party user, the link opens the story within the community section, and a small disclaimer at the bottom reads, "This post was written by a member of the BuzzFeed Community, where anyone can post awesome lists and creations." But the causal reader might not notice that and conclude these posts are written by staff rather than government publicists—especially if the reader followed a link through social media.