#IDF vs #Hamas – Gaza War Mongering Goes Social
Is social media the new weapon of mass destruction? It sure looks that way as Israel and Hamas take their battles to the micro-blogging world in the most explicit example yet of how Twitter, blogs, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest and YouTube can be used as weapons of war. And we’re not talking about flame wars. This tweet by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) may well have launched the first war declared via Twitter:
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012
From Occupy Wall Street in Lower Manhattan to the Arab Spring on the streets of Cairo, the world has witnessed the power of social media to energise political movements and foment popular revolutions. In Gaza, the warring parties have turned their deadly realities on the ground into a virtual war of hashtags, online taunts and multimedia boasts of destruction. The IDF has created an official Tumblr, uploading graphics that highlight attacks on Israeli citizens.
Soon after its first tweet announcing Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF boasted about its assassination of the head of the military wing of Hamas, Ahmed Al-Jabari via live-blog, Twitter and Youtube.
As fighting escalated, the IDF literally warned the enemy to run and hide via this tweet that has gone viral. Then things got surreal. In their usual florid prose, Al Qassam Brigades the military wing of Hamas tweeted about martyrdom and fires of hell :
@idfspokesperson Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)
— Alqassam Brigades (@AlqassamBrigade) November 14, 2012
This coordinated cacophony opens a new front in managing public opinion in wartime. Never before has spin on military action been touted like this on social media in real time. Even the hashtags created by both groups to document the violence are spun to milk public sympathy – the IDF tweeting with #PillarOfDefense and Hamas using #GazaUnderAttack.
War is not a game, but an IDF propaganda video - allegedly showing Hamas members firing rockets from Gaza – introduces game dynamics by remixing footage with a music score that could have come from a video game. Gaming features also allow visitors to the IDF war blog to earn “points” for repeat visits or tweets, winning badges for sharing deaths as the blog tracks the conflict:
Time will tell if other nations will adopt similar approaches. This clash of tweets between the IDF and Al Qassam Brigades has drawn flak from those who feel the exchange of taunts and threats trivializes the horrors of war. But deploying social media in modern warfare is unlikely to be the last. For Israel, the need to shape international opinion and rally supporters is acute and social media is a crucial battlefield:
Israel also finds itself in a singular position, geopolitically. Its most consistent ally in the region, the Mubarak regime in Cairo, was overthrown last year and replaced by an Islamist government. Relations with Jerusalem’s most important partner, the United States, were tested by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s all-but-open support of Barack Obama’s rival Mitt Romney in the recent American presidential elections.
Noah Shachtman at Wired
It remains to be seen whether Twitter intervenes. The use of Twitter to announce and comment on military operations is a significant departure for the social networking platform and potentially brings the feuding groups into conflict with Twitter’s own rules, which state: “Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.” That did not stop the IDF.
The IDF Twitter account invites followers to “read up” on Jabari to understand why the Israeli military killed him and is sending out links to video and articles about Hamas’s past attacks on Israel. It also uploaded the military intelligence it used for targeting to its blog, including photos of sites targeted and video allegedly showing Hamas hiding rockets at one of the sites.
There are merits to this level of transparency in state war propaganda. The video of the killing of Jabari shows Israeli forces took care to minimize casualties – and also made it impossible for Hamas to deny his death. Of course, the IDF want to pre-empt Wikileaks digging the footage up and ensure that the news comes straight from Tel Aviv’s mouth.
Unlike the usual war propaganda tactics of leaflets, state-sponsored radio, press conferences and spokesmen, social media campaigns embed themselves into the media that audiences are already consuming. Users are implicitly participating in the cross-fire by retweeting, liking and sharing the social media content.
Gaza is a modern conflict with significant supporters on both sides who are digital natives and who understand English. It is a war ripe for playing out on the global virtual stage with social media and the new ubiquitous online vernacular – video. Audiences are ready.
One week into this war of words, which side is winning the clash of tweets? As crass as it is to measure the unfolding violence in terms of hashtags, the IDF’s stream of ultra-shareable posts, with more multimedia and calls for retweets than a 2.0 best-practice class appears to be getting heard wider. But Gaza’s more muted plaintive cause appears to sound louder.