Ahead of peace plan rollout, Jared Kushner applies big data to Arab media
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Ahead of peace plan rollout, Jared Kushner applies big data to Arab media

New reported program an attempt to rank outlets for influence, as Washington seeks to streamline its messaging

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, fifth from left, and Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, sixth from left, listen to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, standing, during the opening session of the "Peace to Prosperity" workshop in Manama, Bahrain on June 25, 2019. (Bahrain News Agency via AP)
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, fifth from left, and Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, sixth from left, listen to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, standing, during the opening session of the "Peace to Prosperity" workshop in Manama, Bahrain on June 25, 2019. (Bahrain News Agency via AP)

The United States has begun ranking Arab news outlets by their level of influence, as part of a Trump administration project aimed at streamlining its messaging ahead of the final roll-out of its much touted Middle East peace plan, McClatchy reported on Tuesday.

The ongoing study is an initiative of presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who has been tasked by Donald Trump with formulating a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Senior officials who spoke to McClatchy on condition of anonymity described an effort to improve their understanding of what influences Arab public opinion in order to better focus their messaging going forward.

“What we wanted to understand is what’s driving the street. So we wanted to understand what the influential voices are and influential outlets,” one official quoted explained. “And so we researched them, we ranked them. And what we found is that a lot of the outlets that have been anti-America or anti-Israel in the past just haven’t had outreach or access to the US government.”

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa speaks with the Times of Israel on the sidelines of the Peace to Prosperity workshop in Manama, Bahrain, on June 26, 2019. (Courtesy)

Some 50 outlets were ranked for their level of pro or anti-American sentiment and the tenor of their reporting on the US peace efforts. One key finding is that many Palestinians read the news on mobile devices while waiting in line at IDF checkpoints.

The program, which builds on longstanding US efforts to analyze foreign media and has made significant use of automation, differs from previous efforts in that rather than considering the data generated as merely a source of intelligence, it is being actively used to shape how the administration goes forward with its Middle East plans. News broadcasts are automatically transcribed and searched for important keywords, McClatchy reported.

The report also noted that there are real limitations to this kind of approach, especially given that in many Middle Eastern countries, the media is controlled by the government and does not represent public opinion as it would in a country with a free press.

Protesters march with signs showing the Dome of the Rock and reading in Arabic (L to R) ‘Jerusalem is not for sale’ and ‘do not give up rights’ during the ‘March of Anger’ leading to the US embassy headquarters in the Jordanian capital Amman on June 21, 2019, against the US President Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ and the US-led Middle East economic conference in Bahrain. ( Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

The news that Kushner has applied his style of data-driven analytics to convincing the Arab world of the benefits of the administration’s peacemaking efforts comes only days before he and several other senior American officials are due to embark on a regional tour that will take them to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The delegation’s trip is seen as the conclusion of the first stage of the peace plan’s unveiling, which focused on economic issues, but not yet as the overture to the presentation of the political part. The political details are expected to be unveiled after a government is formed in Israel following its upcoming elections in mid-September.

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