During Operation Pillar of Defense— the label the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) gave to its operations in Gaza during the recent conflict—public outcry and support for either side of the conflict was prevalent. Facebook feeds were filled with photos and images of the conflict, fact sheets and data accumulated over a number of conflicts.
Years ago in 1991 CNN brought live coverage of the Gulf War into our homes. It was the first time a military operation had been relayed to the public in real-time, bringing the face of war into our living rooms, with live commentary.
Today we live in a world where social media sites like Facebook and Twitter provide a more streamlined and steady flow of information. Anyone can cast their opinion or viewpoint on any topic through #hashtags; even Military organizations. The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas took to social media like wildfire, each tweeting their strikes, retaliations and operations as they happened.
On November 12 at 9:14 AM @IDFSpokesperson tweeted “The first target, hit minutes ago, was Ahmed Al-Jabari, head of the #Hamas military wing.” As the conflict progressed so did the war on twitter.
“We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” tweeted the official spokesperson account for the IDF. To which a Hamas operative @alqassamBrigade replied, “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves).”
Unlike traditional media coverage, the social aspect of twitter has enabled the everyday man to provide their own commentary as events begin to trend.
A tweet from Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) says, “simultaneously fascinating and disturbing: the Israeli Military is live-blogging and live-tweeting an attack on Hamas.”
No longer is war coverage the domain of journalists and news organizations. Anyone can get involved and social media has become more than just an arena for the domain of advertising gurus and celebrity gossipers. It has become the forefront for activism worldwide and played a major role in the propagation of the Arab spring in early 2011.
But when armies adopt social media campaigns during conflict, the goal is not to project unbiased opinion, or create factual documentation. It’s to sway public opinion to one side or the other. So how do we separate what is truth from what is essentially a type of marketing spin?
Everyday we share articles, photos, and humorous pictures of cats. We lazily click “Like” to show our universal approval of content in an almost Orwellian newspeak manner. We tweet and retweet billions of quips in 140 characters or less each day. It has become a social habit of our daily lives.
Is there a point where we have to exercise social responsibility when utilizing social media? Should we be treating a humanitarian crisis with the same regard as “celebutante” gossip? Is it right to treat trending social media as a source of coverage?
Throughout the conflict many accounts of “fauxtography” – news images that are faked by various means, generally to promote an ideological agenda or to manipulate the emotions of the viewer—surfaced.
On November 19, 2012 – Middle East BBC Correspondent Don Jonnison (@Don Jonisson) retweeted photograph titled “Pain in #Gaza” originating from one Hazem Balousha(@iHaZemi). The source of the photograph was not from Gaza, but from the conflict in Syria.
Jonnison later tweeted an apology for the mistake. This example and many like it utilized photographs from conflicts in Iraq and Syria as being authentic documentation of the tragic reality of civilian casualties.
On the Israeli side, official twitter accounts circulated info-graphic posters depicting missiles bound for iconic land marks in western countries such the Eifel Tower and The Statue of Liberty; as well as overlays of the Hamas missile ranges over cities such as Washington D.C. and New York.
There were also more aggressive tweets of a poster of Jabari shaded in a deep red with the world “Eliminated” printed across.
The presence of the conflict on twitter was less of a forum for public opinion and more of a propaganda war, which many of us –no matter what our political stance or where our sympathies lay– unwittingly volunteered for. ,
According to Twitter’s user policy, “Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.” It seems like a piece of common sense and courtesy that many social media users have forgotten.
By Robert Meyers