The days when the horrors of war could be filtered by newspaper editors and TV news producers are over, thanks in large part to social media, which allows users to post and share raw, uncensored photos and video footage of violent conflict, including the terrible consequences for civilians. This development has opened up a whole new arena in the battle to shape public opinion, leading to tit-for-tat social media exchanges between combatants.
The most prominent example is, of course, the social media war being waged by Israel and Hamas alongside their actual armed conflict in the Gaza strip and southern Israel. It all started when the Israeli Defense Forces posted video of the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, the military chief of Hamas, to YouTube on November 14. The IDF boasted about the assassination in a blog post linked to the video: “This was a surgical operation in co- operation with the Israeli Security Agency that was implemented on the basis of concrete intelligence and using advanced capabilities,” and @IDFSpokesperson posted the video to its Twitter account. It also posted a “wanted”-type poster of Jabari with the word “eliminated” stamped across his face on Facebook, where it has attracted thousands of “likes.”
Hamas and its supporters have been quick to respond. The armed wing of Hamas, known as Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, responded to the @IDFSpokesperson tweet in English: “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves).” It’s worth noting that tweets by both IDF and Hamas appear to be in violation of Twitter’s rules forbidding threats of violence against other, but the microblogging platform appears to be taking a lenient attitude so far.
Since the initial exchange following Jabari’s assassination, both sides have also used social media to document the ongoing conflict, although Israel appears to be more proactive here. There’s a “Operation Pillar of Defense” account on Flickr, and photos are also being posted to the IDF’s Pinterest page, prompting me to wonder if Pinterest execs ever thought the social network would become a battleground for a Middle Eastern conflict. IDF has also created an account on Tumblr.
One of the most manipulative (and effective) tactics adopted by both sides involves using social media to make propagandistic displays of civilian casualties. Some of the most vivid images of the conflict, which have been shared countless times via social media, show the BBC journalist Jihad Misharawi carrying the body of his 11-month-old son, who was killed by an Israeli artillery shell. Not to be outdone, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu countered with a picture of an Israeli baby, covered in blood, who was wounded by a Hamas rocket attack.