In Gaza, new arsenals include "weaponized" social media

Fri Nov 16, 2012 1:15am EST
 

By Gerry Shih

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - There have long been the tools of warfare associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: warplanes, mortars, Qassam rockets. Now that list includes Twitter, Facebook, YouTube.

This week the worldwide audience got a vivid look at conflict in the social media era as the Israeli military unfurled an extensive campaign across several Internet channels after conducting an air strike that killed a top Hamas military commander in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

The air strike, which came after several days of rocket attacks launched from Gaza toward targets in Israel, was confirmed by the Israel Defense Force's Twitter account before the military held a press conference.

The public relations tug-of-war has long been understood as a central element of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian leaders like Yasser Arafat were credited with skillfully courting international media during the first Intifada to highlight the Palestinian struggle and help sway public opinion.

But the newest technologies, including Twitter and YouTube, have been embraced particularly by the Israeli government, which has perhaps waged an unprecedented social media PR campaign as the conflict escalated this week.

The Israel Defense Force (IDF) has established a presence on nearly every platform available. It launched a Tumblr account Wednesday, posting infographics touting how Israeli forces minimize collateral damage to Palestinian civilians. It prepared Facebook pages in several languages, and even has a bare-bones Pinterest page with photos of troops deployed in humanitarian missions.

On Twitter, the @IDFspokesperson account issued a torrent of tweets that carried hashtags like #IsraelUnderFire and what it said were videos of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza, as well as pictures of wounded Israeli children.

"They are very conscious how things are going to be viewed, perhaps more so because they sense that they are more and more isolated in world opinion, and they are less shouldered by U.S. public opinion," said James Noyes, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.   Continued...