The current conflict between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza includes a contemporary element that shouldn’t really surprise anyone – the use of social media in support of Israel’s military and political objectives.
21st-century tools for propaganda purposes, some might say. Effective tools and channels to engage online with influencers and opinion-leaders wherever they are, others might say.
Whatever your opinion – about that and the conflict itself – it’s clear that digital communication, and social media in particular, form part of a broad communications infrastructure where a strategic plan to support measurable objectives apply for a military purpose just as it does in the business and other civilian settings.
Israeli news magazine Tablet has a fascinating assessment of what the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have been doing in recent weeks during the bloodiest part of this current conflict prior to this week’s ceasefire.
In “The ‘Kids’ Behind IDF’s Media,” the magazine looks at some specific examples of how the IDF have been using social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest in ways that add new meaning to the oft-quoted phrase “join the conversation”:
[...] “We want to explain to people what happens in Israel, simply,” [Sacha Dratwa, who runs the IDF's social media operation], said in a brief telephone interview late last week. “We believe people understand the language of Facebook, the language of Twitter.”
For Israel, taking the war to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even Pinterest is a natural outgrowth of the Israeli government’s public diplomacy initiatives, from helping organize seminars to train Israelis to advocate on the country’s behalf over social media networks to underwriting a campaign to improve the image of settlers among bloggers.
The goal, as Dratwa explained it, is twofold: to get Israel’s narrative out in real time, as people read about red alerts in Tel Aviv and rocket landings in Gaza on Twitter, and to cut out the middleman of “old media” in communicating with pro-Israel activists. “What we try to do is to be fast and get information out before the old media,” Dratwa told me. “We believe people are getting information from social media platforms and we don’t want them to get it from other sources – we are the ones on the scene, and the old media are not on the scene as are the IDF.”
The Tablet goes into some detail in its account, assessing the impact of such activities and addressing some historical perspectives that led to what is in place today.
Overall, the report shows that social media is a key element in this conflict. While Tablet doesn’t go into any detail about what the other side is doing – their piece is about the IDF after all – their concluding words bring that into focus:
[...] while the IDF’s social media campaign has drawn criticism from those who feel it trivializes war and its consequences, it’s unlikely to be the last of its kind. “We’re at a moment where this stuff is not only the way a lot of these communications happen, but the audience is primed for it,” said Sree Sreenivasan, a professor of social media at Columbia’s School of Journalism. “There’s no point saying they shouldn’t be doing it because no one is going to listen,” he said. “Both sides are going to do whatever is in their self-interest,” he added. “And social media is an example of that.”
- The Hobson and Holtz Report – Podcast #678: November 19, 2012: Dan York reports on Israel, Hamas and social media (Dan’s segment starts at 33:20)
- Essential digital diplomacy