War is fought not only with artillery and firepower but with words. Words can be used carelessly during times of conflict, but are often intentionally employed to sway public perceptions of conflicts. Israel took this a step further this week when the Israel Defense Force began using social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to chronicle their ongoing military operations in Gaza. Their account, titled @IDFSpokesperson, encouraged followers to show support for the military strikes. This is the first time a military organization has used social media to “tweet” and publicize details of their military campaigns.
As the tweets show (for example the image below) the Israel Defense Force killed a Hamas commander. On Wednesday the tweet said “More than 12,000 rockets hit Israel in the past 12 years. RT if you think #Israel has the right to defend itself.” In the meantime more than 5,500 people have confirmed on Twitter, and the message has been shared 18,000 times. Now both Hamas and IDF are exchanging a war of words online in a battle for public opinion. Here is a video received by CNN illustrating examples of tweets from both sides.
Other social media outlets are also becoming tools of wartime propaganda. The IDF has a Youtube channel with over 300 posted videos. One particularly attention-grabbing video posted on the IDF channel was entitled, “How Does the IDF Minimize Harm to Palestinian Civilians?”. This video is reminiscent of World War Two propaganda employed to rally support for a country’s “cause”. “Peaceful” war tactics are promoted as if they were the newest beauty craze, “this product will do this, cause no health harm, for more information click the link below…etc”.
It is one thing to be in congruence with a position you advocate but another to openly endorse the killing of others. Military operations should be undertaken to advance human rights, not to support and promote killing. Social media campaigns such the IDF’s latest propaganda efforts are designed to reinforce existing ideologies, not to persuade others of a particular viewpoint. The IDF is documenting every move, every airstrike for the public to view, depicting their actions even more accurately than do media outlets. People are now receiving a play by play of live-history military conflicts.
It seems the new war front is spelled out in 140 characters per tweet conversation and hashtag. This war does not need the complication of social media as another tool to sway people’s hearts and minds. Israel has launched a new military front via the internet. In this fight with words Israel should choose its words wisely.