Israel-Gaza battles light up the Internet

In this age, even war has gone social. As Israel Defense Forces bombs detonated in Gaza during the past few days and the Palestinian faction Hamas launched missiles toward Israel, those of us far from the skirmish kept watch online.

On Twitter, the official account of the IDF, @IDFspokesperson detailed in English and Hebrew their targets, links to YouTube videos explaining aspects of the fight, and a live blog posting updates on “Operation Pillar of Defense.”

Hamas, also on Twitter, has been posting tweets to its account in Arabic. Palestine News, an aggregate of news concerning Palestine—@Palestine—has not kept up quite the social media presence as IDF, but provides a contrary view to Israel’s PR machine.

Yet, there is no mistaking that Israel’s reliance on social media to spread the word far and wide about the conflict as the IDF sees it, has been strategic and well executed. The blog, http://www.idfblog.com/, has received so much traffic it crashed.

Consider that a recent tweet by @IDFspokesperson received 187 retweets and was favorited 36 times in about half an hour, while a tweet from @Palestine sent at about the same time received just 11 tweets and had not been favorited by other Twitter users. The IDF is getting mileage from its Twitter 160,000 followers—more than three times more than @Palestine has.

Likewise, Hamas’ Twitter account, while in Arabic, has nearly 20,000 followers. Its most recent tweet was sent two days ago and garnered 13 retweets and five favorites.

The conflict is not just a ground game between opposing military forces, it is a propaganda game. And the IDF is clearly winning on that front. Chalk it up to infrastructure, education levels, funding and the digital divide, but there are many instances throughout history where slick propaganda has figured prominently in a war. Think about World War II. Think about the Chinese Revolution in 1949.

War is a delicate subject, not to mention vicious, horrifying and life-altering. While the mechanics of war have evolved over time from spears and arrows and swords to cannons and rifles and machine guns and nuclear bombs and unmanned drones and ballistic missiles, so has the technology in which civilians receive information.

Think back to the 1991 bombing of Baghdad. CNN was there, earning its stripes as the live news network on the ground—a reporter frantically depicting the onslaught of the city by American bombers from a hotel. Or look into the history books at how the Civil War was the first to be recorded by photographers at battle sites.

Now we have social media. We have Facebook campaigns and YouTube videos. We have blogs and 140-character tweets to keep us informed about the battlefield. And with social media we have a plethora of new voices entering the convseration and providing details. We can hear from civilians witnessing the attacks as clearly and urgently as we receive media reports or information from government and military sources.

Israel and Palestine will continue to bombard each other with rockets, gunfire, bombs and propaganda, while the rest of us will be left to sift through the gobs of information thrown at us in all forms of media. Many voices and perspectives are good when collecting information. What is difficult is separating the truth from the fiction.

We sincerely hope for peace in the region, and will have our Twitter feeds to keep us in the loop.

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