One unique aspect of the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas was the unprecedented use of social media by both sides.
This new development highlighted important moral questions: what constitutes the battlefield, and what are the legitimate targets in that battlefield?
Australian army Land Warfare Studies Centre (LWCS) analyst Chloe Diggins opened up Pandora’s box for military targeting when she used the conflict to interpret the Geneva Convention in a way that would include “tweeters.”
The LWCS is the research and concept arm of the active duty Australian military, and Diggin’s post appeared on its newly formed blog site, The Strategist.
Diggins cited the Twitter war between Hamas and the Israeli defence Force as evidence that anyone conducting an information war, one that aids a potential enemy, could become viable military targets themselves.
There are lots of interesting dimensions in Israel and Hamas’ recent social media war. But one of the more pertinent ethical questions arising from this case is whether engaging with or contributing to a militarized social media space constitutes an act of war. If that’s the case, this might mean that those using social media in support of military operations are now legitimate targets.
The focus here is “tweeters,” but the analysis also lumps in pretty much anyone, including journalists, who trades any form of information, online or otherwise.
The Sydney Morning Herald offered some analysis on Diggin’s article, nothing that legitimate military targets are defined as objects “which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and Bhose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage”
The big question is whether social media offers an “effective contribution” to military action, and, perhaps more importantly, who gets to define “effective contribution”.
A wider interpretation opens up not just tweeters, but anyone who’s willing to move information that goes against or wears on the credibility of a military force. Diggins goes on to nearly define Twitter itself as a battlefield, one inside the information war, by noting that Israel’s ‘declaration’ of hostilities occurred over the social media platform.
“By creating and perpetuating a narrative that influences public opinion, social media is contributing to a defined military operation … as a legitimate part of the conflict, social media (and its users) becomes a valid military objective … ” wrote Diggins.
The interpretation gives new meaning to the strikes that occurred on Gazan journalists, and in doing so has frightening consequences, ones we shouldn’t pursue, and should sorely resist.
Diggins concludes by putting the question on the user, rather than on the military power — “who’s to say that Twitter users can’t fight in the information space of that war? Moreover, who’s to say they shouldn’t reasonably expect to become legitimate targets themselves?”
In a world where cyberwarfare is now common terminology, wars are announced over Twitter, and journalists openly targeted, Diggins raises an important issue: exactly how wide the aperture for legitimate targets should be.