War Goes Social

15 Nov War Goes Social

War.  War never changes.

Except when it shows up on Twitter.

Yesterday morning at roughly 9:30 AM EST, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced a major offensive against Hamas operations in the Gaza Strip, which served as the launch site for recent missile attacks against Israeli targets.  Dubbed Operation “Pillar of Defense,” the IDF announced the operation not through a press conference or press release, but via the Israeli military’s official Twitter handle.

Beyond the social-centered announcement of the offensive, the IDF live-blogged the operation through the morning via Twitter, its own WordPress-like site and YouTube, even detailing the elimination of a key Hamas military leader, Ahmed Jabari, during the assault.  Hamas also maintains a social media presence, however, and replied to the IDF’s tweets with “You Opened Hell [sic] Gates on Yourselves.”

War is a horrible, life-eating monster, but yesterday marked a watershed moment in social media’s short history.  For the first time, a military operation was not only initially announced via an official government social media channel, but also tracked and reported on by that same official channel.  Rather than relying on third-party (some might say “neutral”) reporting, the IDF took control of the conversation at the source and framed it to their liking.

To say the least, it’s disturbing to see public relations concepts taken beyond the relatively benign sphere of business and applied to war, especially the politically-charged, ever-simmering conflict that is Gaza.  It’s an important lesson at a global scale, however: Social media has no political leaning.  Regardless of social media’s importance to human rights and popular uprisings like the Arab Spring, the “Machine” can use Twitter and Facebook just as easily as resistance movements.

Regardless of your take on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the IDF and Hamas, this is a defining moment in the use of social media, particularly Twitter.  But now let’s ask the logical question: How long until drones get individual UStream channels?

–John Terrill

John Terrill
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