War is never pretty and its repercussions are horrific. Most people are naturally against the concept of war and do not tend to support armies that are perceived as invaders. This is where war propaganda kicks in. Its goal is to convince public opinion that a particular military operation is the best thing that could ever happen to the world today. If propaganda doesn’t always succeed in making people fully support a military operation, it still often manages to prevent general outcry and indignation from the masses.
Israel has never really enjoyed global support in its multiple military operations against Palestine. While officials claim that Israel has the “right to defend itself”, it is still widely perceived across the world as a strong, U.S.-backed aggressor that is attacking a weak and oppressed population. However, with Operation Pillar of Defense the IDF came equipped with a new weapon to face a hostile public opinion: Social media presence.
As I stated in the article on KONY 2012, the most effective way of influencing public opinion today is not through CNN or newspapers, but through the internet, especially social media. For this military operation in Gaza, the IDF made full use of its social media outlets and has been actively propagating its message through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Flickr and a blog. It is the first time that an army of that magnitude broadcasts up-to-the-minute information on its own military operation.
The IDF’s official Twitter account (@IDFSpokesperson) has become one the most important sources of information regarding Operation Pillar of Defense. The Twitter feed relays information such as the time and location airstrikes, links to anti-Hamas YouTube videos and even information on notable kills. While the strategy has certainly succeeded in going viral and garnering world-wide attention , the war-mongering tone of these live updates have horrified many observers. Here’s an article on the IDF’s Twitter offensive.
Military Strikes Go Viral: Israel Is Live-Tweeting Its Own Offensive Into Gaza
It’s no Apple keynote. It’s Operation Pillar of Defense.
The Persian Gulf War marked a major change in the way Americans experienced combat from their living rooms. It was the first time civilians got to see explosions going off under computerized crosshairs, in grainy black-and-white — a development that led people to marvel at war’s growing resemblance to video games. Then came YouTube. Suddenly, Internet users had on-demand access to a wealth of helmetcam footage — this time in color — taken by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, for the most part, you had to dig it up yourself if you wanted to watch.
Now we’ve arrived at the latest iteration in digital warfare: when military operations are liveblogged in real time, and the updates are delivered right to your social newsfeed.
Over the past six hours, Israel’s military has been hammering Gaza with a barrage of missiles. The IDF’s public relations team, meanwhile, has just as steadily been covering the offensive — updating its Twitter handle, @IDFSpokesperson, with the play-by-play on Operation Pillar of Defense. Within moments of the opening salvo, IDF officials announced that they’d killed the top operative in Hamas’ armed services:
Breaking news on social media may seem like oh-so-2009. But livetweeting an ongoing mission is something we haven’t seen before. Minutes after the initial announcement, the IDF posted a video of what it claimed to be the airstrike that killed Ahmed Jabri, the Hamas official:
The IDF then literally told the enemy to run and hide — an instruction that has so far been retweeted over 2,000 times:
It gets weirder: In reply to that message, Hamas’ military wing wrote back … on Twitter.
So now what we’re looking at is a full-on information war being waged over the Internet in addition to in the streets. The exchange is reminiscent of an earlier encounter between NATO officials in Afghanistan and Taliban sympathizers. But that incident was widely read as a tension-reliever in the aftermath of violence, evidence that even enemies could talk reasonably. This, on the other hand — a coordinated PR attack in the midst of battle — feels far more serious.
- Source: The Atlantic
An even more bizarre use of social media in this conflict is the going viral of Instagram pictures taken by young IDF soldiers. The soldier’s smiling faces and attempts to look stylish are in sharp contrast with the horrifying pictures emerging from the Hamas’ Twitter account. The hashtags are also quite perplexing. Here are some of them.
Seeing these pictures while civilians and children are being killed in Gaza have taken aback quite a few observers, but their viral status have still probably helped the IDF’s public perception. They have indeed reached the silent majority (especially the younger generation) that is uninformed/indifferent/neutral about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this age of superficiality and appearances, these pics of young and attractive IDF soldiers probably led many young people to identify with them, making them say something like “Hey, that’s the type of pics I post on Instagram all day”.
Of course, during wartime, propaganda emerges from both sides and truths (as well as lies) are communicated to the public. So, as missiles and rockets get launched from both sides and carnage takes place in Gaza, hostilities have spilled over to a brand new warzone: Your social media accounts.