Radical Instrument

IT is changing the exercise of power. Radical Instrument is picking up the signals.

Gaza and social media

with 6 comments

This article from Wired’s Danger Room is a little surreal and disorienting:  Israel is conducting an information campaign in support of the developing war in Gaza using Twitter and YouTube. As you might expect, there’s more out there in non-governmental channels as well – see this blog for a roundup on the Israeli side. Naturally, there’s a slice of the blogosphere representing the non-governmental Palestinian perspective (this blog, for example, serves as an aggregator), and Israeli media reported on Hamas’ use of a video-sharing service as recently as October.

I’m going to focus on the governmental (and let’s include Hamas in that) use of these technologies, since non-governmental use is really old news.

1.  There’s an inherent conflict between information operations and social media channels. Information operations are designed to control content. Social media are about ceding creation, contribution, and some measure of control to the audience. The IDF’s YouTube channel isn’t really social media, or “Web 2.0” in that respect – it’s simply the broadband version of the Pentagon briefings played out in the early days of the Iraq war. As for Twitter – isn’t omnipresent/always-on interest a precondition of using omnipresent/always-on media? I’m going to assume that anyone using Twitter to track events like this probably already supports one side or the other, with a passion. I’m not sure that you’d want to dedicate information operations to the choir. 

2.  Successful use of these tools depends on the goal, which directly relates to a political entity’s position relative to the international order. Hamas has a clear advantage here:  video-sharing and other forms of cheaper, more loosely controlled, and “instant access” media allow it to stimulate the so-called “street” against regimes in Egypt and other Arab states. Hamas also holds the advantage in content creation:  at a minimum, it can simply circulate graphic images of the dead (instant mental impression), whereas the IDF has the far harder task of using content to convince U.S. and EU populations of the legitimacy of its efforts (requires some degree of analysis). I’m not sure if this is too far removed from pre-digital pamphleteering – at least not yet.

Written by Mark

December 31, 2008 at 6:01 am

6 Responses

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  1. Spot on. I think the goal here is to open a dialogue, to drive reconsideration, to get people thinking beyond the graphic image. That being said, I can only hope that this is just the engagement we’re seeing to-date are just the beginning.

    If you were consulting on PR or mar comm for Israel, what would you be doing better? Differently? I think the question we need to be asking is, how do we do this better? What are our expectations? Where is the bar set and how can it be raised?

    jon burg

    January 1, 2009 at 1:37 am

  2. Jon – Thanks for your comment. I’d agree that the point of social media should be to open a dialogue, in the broadest sense of that word. That said, I still think there’s an inherent conflict between establishing a dialogue, and conducting information operations, in which dialogue isn’t necessarily the point … as I think you point out, it’s PR.

    With regard to your questions, I think Israel might have employed these media better before the end of the ceasefire, and before any military campaign. As Haaretz pointed out, the run-up to this campaign was based on a disinformation strategy. I’d argue that a better information strategy might have avoided the need for a military campaign altogether (for the curious, although it’s not the point of this blog, I think both sides have crossed lines they shouldn’t have).


    January 1, 2009 at 4:10 am

  3. Mark–

    Fascinating stuff, and I agree there’s a fundamental conflict between social media and standard one-way communications. As the former gathers momentum and the latter loses it, everybody who wants to reach the public is going to have to reconcile the conflict and learn to use both.

    The idealists–a group in which I find myself only occasionally–say the transparent, inclusive, uncontrollable “multilogue” of social media will drive institutional change in a positive way.

    I’m guessing neither party in the current conflict has an interest in a real time, wide-open “cultural exchange” that social media forms allow. For now they’re using emerging media to distribute propaganda. Nothing wrong with that. I just hope/believe there’s far more interesting stuff to come.

    Craig Stoltz

    January 2, 2009 at 12:39 am

  4. Craig – thanks for your comment! This blog wouldn’t exist if there weren’t some amount of idealism involved.

    The evolution of propaganda in emerging media is something that bears watching. There’s a question as to whether propaganda can survive as propaganda as technology changes, how it will evolve to do so, and whether or not it increases its effectiveness (and thereby, the power of the propagandist). I’m not making any bets right now.


    January 3, 2009 at 2:04 am

  5. […] operations” should really think about tearing up the rulebook. Take the IDF, for instance.  Some questionable experiments with social media aside, it’s resorting to tactics – like the ban on media access, or the takeover of a Hamas […]

  6. […] I’d still argue that there’s an inherent conflict between information operations and soc…, which leaves the IDF at a disadvantage. The question is whether two million hits on YouTube changed anything, beyond solidifying Israeli opinion and possibly moving U.S. opinion (this survey from RasmussenReports indicated a split over the campaign, while more recent surveys claim broader U.S. support for Israel). The second and more important question is whether this even matters relative to the impact that social and new media channels have in Arab countries, particularly Egypt, as well among Arab populations abroad. […]

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