When Israel first began its military assault on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip today, it announced it with a tweet:
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012
That tweet has been followed with more, plus videos of the attack on one Hamas leader (presumably to show how “precise” it was), well-design graphics showing those who have died, and even an official live blog.
Yes, it really does seem like war has entered the social media age.
This hasn’t happened by accident. In 2011, IDF Spokesman Avi Benayahu said that that the army is currently in the process of enlisting “new media fighters”, with a budget of NIS 6 million ($1.63 million) for the enlistment of 120 soldiers.
While there was much discussion at the time about the Israeli military recruiting “hackers”, later comments in Haaretz suggested that at least some of these recruited might be better described as “bloggers” or even “social media experts”:
Asked what he wished for his predecessor, Benayahu replied:
“I wish for him not to be part of a major war, for his main and job to be dealing with small events. Such as the Syrians on the Golan Heights, for example, moving from the margins to the centre. Events that are propeled by the blogosphere and social networks. That is also the primary task, as I see it: improving the Internet sites and the ability to guide leading bloggers, to use Twitter and to distribute newsletters. Commanders must be trained to deal with the new media. ‘Open intelligence’ is expanding and gaining tremendous influence.”
Benayahu had apparently been burned by the social media disaster that was the Gaza Flotilla affair, when “Flotilla” trended on Twitter for 20 hours. That event was widely seen as a victory for flotilla organisers, and the Free Gaza movement, who had managed to evade Israeli attempts to control the flow of news by using social media.
The IDF had sought to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Today we may be seeing that strategy in action.
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