A Hamas social media campaign aimed at engaging English-speakers has been hijacked by tens of thousands of Twitter trolls who are using the initiative's hashtag #AskHamas to ask the militant Palestinian Islamist group ridiculous and sarcastic questions.
Announced on Thursday, the five day-long initiative called "truth from the mouth of the horse" allows Twitter users to tweet questions to senior Hamas officials. Replies in English come via the account @HamasInfoEn.
Speaking during a workshop in Gaza, Taher Al-Nounou, a media adviser to Hamas, said that the daily Q&A sessions were aimed at "rejecting the labeling of the Palestinian resistance movement as terrorists" and were open to "ordinary Western people."
The campaign's timing coincides with an approaching deadline for appeals against a European Union (EU) court ruling that took Hamas off the bloc's terrorist list for "technical" reasons. Hamas, who have controlled the marooned Gaza Strip since 2006, fought a bloody seven-week war with Israel last summer that resulted in the death of more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis.
Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, said in January that the council would challenge the ruling, which kept a funding freeze imposed on Hamas in place, but it is unclear if any appeal has yet been lodged.
Since the campaign began, the hashtag #AskHamas has been used more than 150,000 times, with a peak of 60,000 in one day, but many Twitter users have used the opportunity to poke fun at the group rather than ask serious questions.
Among such tweets was one from @TheBlahDalia asking if Abu Obaeda, a masked Hamas fighter and spokesperson, was "single and ready to mingle."
Another from @iowahawkblog asked how much Hamas had paid the Ku Klux Klan for wardrobe advice, while @dumisani6 accused the group's leader, Khaled Mashaal who is alleged to have a net-worth of at least $2.5 billion, of being a "poverty pimp."
Some were slightly more barbed. @falafelballs asked Hamas: "Do you think MC Hammer pants will ever be back in fashion? Also why do you force children to be human shields?"
For its part @HamasInfoEn has attempted to respond to some of the more humorous questions in kind.
On the most wry responders so far is Rawhi Mushtaha, one of the co-founders of Al Majd, the precursor to Hamas' military wing.
Asked by pro-Israel tweeter @Drshiloh if falafel and humus were served in the militant group's underground network of tunnels, Mushtaha responded with a darkly humorous reference to Israel's economic blockade of Gaza. "If I say yes will Israel impose restrictions on all falafel and hummus ingredients?" he tweeted.
In another food-related quip, Mushtaha, who spent 25 years in Israeli jails, responded to a question about whether takeaway pizza could be smuggled through the tunnels by referring the asker to a previous response where he said the 1947 partition of Palestine was like "working hard for a pizza while hungry" and someone "steal[ing] half."
However, despite the attempts to brush off the avalanche of dry humor — and of outright racism and anger — the "truth from the mouth of the horse" initiative doesn't ultimately seem to have resulted in much positive PR. As one Twitter user put it: "This hashtag campaign seems like a very bad idea, are you sure the guy who suggested it isn't a Mossad [spy]?"
Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem