from this week i begin blogging on Tehelkablog ….
the first of these is on the social media war between the Hamas and the Israel Defense Force (IDF)
The Middle East crisis is as old as history. Different people, different kingdoms, different issues and different cultures have been at it for millennia. The latest edition of the conflict dates back to 1947 – the year Palestine was divided into Jewish and Arab Areas. The following year Israel was born – giving the Jewish people a home where they can be secure and live without persecution after two thousand years. The Arab states attacked the fledgling Jewish state almost immediately, and the war for the tiny strip of land has been on since then. There have been skirmishes, battles, and wars ever since. But, in addition to the physical war, there has always been a war to impact perception.At the core have been two sets of rights – the right of Israel and Israelis to exist and the right of the Palestinian people for a homeland. Both the State of Israel and the PLO spent time, energy and effort to build up their case, to down play the violence and to exaggerate the victimhood. Usually this was done by talking to Governments, friendly journalists and the like. But, now in an era of ubiquitous social media – they can talk to not just to all of them but also all of us.
do check out this excellent video by Nina Paley on the Israel/Palestine conflict
If last year was the year when the ‘revolution’ was tweeted live, this year it is the turn of the war. The battle is not just for strips of land or even the need to stop violence or to live in peace — rather it is for the hearts and minds of millions on social media — who through their own spontaneous response to words and images will create a wave of buzz that swings public opinion. Or so, goes the theory.
In the last few weeks, the relationship between Israel and Hamas has been hotting up. Formal hostilities began on 14 November but prior to that, Israel has been bombing Gaza, in retaliation for the Hamas bombing Israel, which in turn was because of Israel blockading Gaza, which in turn was for Hamas… As they say on Facebook — it is complicated.
There is one level at which the war is going on where the cost is measured in lives; and there is another one going on where it is measured in terms of social media advantage. Both the Israel Defence Force and the Alqassam Brigades have been slugging it out in cyberspace. Both twitter handles have been giving a ball by ball bomb by bomb account of the war. Each is trying to tell its story to the world without the benefit of intermediaries. From independent to embedded journalists covering a war, to Armies giving you a rings side view of the hostilities directly — reporting of wars has changed.
Also present is a certain level of macho posturing. There is nothing like war to elevate the testosterone level all around.
The entire exchange between Israel Defence Force and the Alqassam Brigades is available on every platform, every media, and on every screen. Social media warriors armed with smartphones, datacards, and tablets are trying to dominate the narrative and tell their side of the story. It is not about the truth, rather their version of the truth.
Both sides are going for the jugular vis-à-vis their tweets, blogs and their call to their supporters. But this is not just aimed at the converted, but also the neutral observer. The communication has a certain excitement at the number of missiles being fired from one place to the other, a breathless awe at a missile being stopped. There are powerful words and powerful hashtags – #gazaunderattack, #warcrimes (AlQassam Brigades) #Israelunderfire, #pillarofdefence (IDF), that are allowing us to follow the war. On the face of it the AlqassamBrigades has been luckier in its choice of tags – those are being used far more, and are getting more people to read the Hamas perspective.
With the kind of messages one gets to see, it is more and more difficult to discern who the good guys are and who are not. When we had the filter of the Main Stream Media –be it private or state run –you went with their biases. Now suddenly, you are handling well-honed propaganda, about a region you know little about – except the basics – and the information overload is phenomenal. Do you outrage at Israelis killed by Hamas missiles, or Palestinians killed by Israeli missiles? In death they look rather similar.
The idea on both sides is to convert the passive supporter into an active one – and allowing their narrative to dominate – but there is a danger to this. The social media animal is a fickle one. S/he is rather like a adrenalin junkie that surfs from wave (outrage)to wave (outrage) – finding the next big wave so as to speak. Apart from a few committed people who will stick to the cause, the larger public will move to the next breaking story soon. Also, how do you top live death or live bombings, in terms of excitement? Presenting their case directly to the people – sans filters – is a great idea, but how do you prevent acute boredom? One bomb is pretty much like another bomb – especially when it is not falling on you.