The World's First Social Media War: Israel v. Hamas
Media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting notes:
The conventional corporate media timelines usually stress, whatever the facts, that Israel is responding to violent attacks by Palestinians.
For example, the New York Times and other mainstream media claim Israel only responds after “persistent Palestinian rocket fire", which is false. FAIR documented this occurring numerous times over the past decade.
But it's not just corporate media ... Israel and Hamas are fighting in social media as well.
Specifically, 26 year old snowboarder Sacha Dratwa has overseen a savvy social media campaign which currently has the upper hand:
The Israeli government is trying to pre-empt a publicity pounding over its Gaza offensive by aggressively pushing out its version of events, furiously tweeting and Facebook posting updates from a "media bunker."
Media experts say that Israel's public relations campaign is just an extension of the traditional effort by government propaganda machines to dictate and control the media narrative during a conflict.
"The underlying reasons of Israel's propaganda are to silence the enemy, gain international support and justify wars," says Helga Tawil-Souri, associate professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University.
"Their goal has not fundamentally changed over the years, only the platforms on which these are disseminated," she said.
USA Today reports:
As the conflict in Gaza intensifies and claims more lives, a new front has opened up: Both sides are now battling it out in social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook in an intense public relations offensive.
In addition to Facebook and Twitter accounts, the IDF is also on Tumblr and Pinterest, posting photos of the military operation and of day-to-day army life. The Israeli military also is streaming images from drone cameras to Twitter posts.
The Israeli strategy marks a departure from previous conflicts with Palestinian territories and is in large part down to negative response to how they have handled the media in the past, experts say.
"Since then, the IDF has invested heavily in its social media operation," said Rebecca Stein, professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University who has studied the IDF's use of social media.
"It has realized it has to talk in the vernacular of social media – its output is more polished," she says.
Philip Howard, a fellow at Princeton University who specializes in social media and political Islam, said it is likely it is likely that Israel's tweets before the initial airstrikes were first time an army has provided advance warning of an attack using social media.
"There are examples of military officers blogging or posting things that enemy governments dislike," he said. "But this was no slip-up; there was a deliberate strategy to 'get ahead' of social media by tweeting in advance."
Both Israel and Hamas have essentially live tweeted the confrontation from its beginning, mixing military updates with threats, YouTube videos, graphic images and made-for-Twitter graphics. The IDF has also been pushing its message on Tumblr and Instagram.
The all-out battle on social media has bewildered many following the confrontation online. Mathew Ingram, a senior writer at GigaOM, tried to sum up his thoughts in a tweet: “Fascinating, horrifying, bizarre, disturbing,” he wrote. “I think I have officially run out of adjectives to describe what Israel and Hamas are doing.”
***Jeff Jarvis, director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York Journalism school, said in a phone interview that while he had not quite figured out what gives this confrontation such an odd feel, the aggressive, official use of social media made may be responsible.
Jarvis pointed out that social media has been used in conflicts before– notably in the Arab Spring—but that governments perhaps have not been as involved.“Twitter has been used by witnesses and participants in these events and media was the outlet for institutions,” he said. “So what we see now, is the institutions heading over into the medium of the witnesses and participants.”
It may, of course, just come down to creative and tone. The graphics posted by both sides, for instance, have been especially strange. One posted by Israel’s @IDFSpokesperson account portrayed rockets raining down on the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben, and the Eiffel tower and asked “WHAT WOULD YOU DO?”
***Another, posted by Hamas, showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hoisted in the air by a Qassam rocket ***
When a military at war asks its Twitter followers to “Please Retweet,” or check out its Tumblr, or posts an image of a rocket hooking a Prime Minister’s undergarments, it is hard not to sense a disconnect between that messaging and the bombing taking place in real life. As The Verge’s Joseph L. Flatley put it, “One liveblogs award shows or CES keynotes, not armed conflict.”
Still, Jarvis thinks the strategy is an effective one because it allows the two entities to go straight to the people, as opposed to speaking through the media . “You want to get your message out without being reduced to somebody else’s selection of sound bites,” he said. “This allows them to go around the mediators.”
Of course, Israeli service men are not the only ones engaged in pro-Israeli social media efforts. As we've noted for years, Israel has employed its civilians to automatically vote stories questioning Israel down and to send pro-Israel letters to politicians and media (see this, this and this).
Indeed, Israeli prime minister Netanyahu publicly thanked Israel's keyboard warriors for battling on social media for the cause:
AP points out:
In an operation attached to Israel's press office, hundreds of volunteers produce and post instant videos and graphics about the latest twists in the Gaza offensive from Israel's point of view. Its Facebook site, "Israel Under Fire," has gained more than 24,000 "likes" over the last week.
"We're removing the media middle men," said Daniel Seaman, deputy director general of Israel's Ministry of Public Diplomacy, as youth buzzed around with computers and smartphones. "They used to say the Elders of Zion controlled the media. Well, here are the youngsters of Zion who are running it."
On the other hand, Ynet says that Hamas has won the media war.
And RT says that Hamas has won the social media war on Twitter:
Postscript: Israeli's bombings of international media centers is being categorized by Israel as rooting out Hamas terrorists, and by many in the media as targeting journalists.
Of course, the U.S. has been manipulating social media for years. And just as Israel warned reporters not to interview anyone from Hamas, the U.S. is wary of competition from anyone else using social media.
And if any side happens to be using the ultimate dirty trick, that could unfairly shift the media dialog.
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