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Friday, October 9, 2015

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Social-media warfare

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We continue looking at the virtual war of words that parallelled last month’s very real fighting in Israel and Gaza. Today: the people behind Israel’s social-media campaign and opinions on the impact of Israel’s messaging.

“We’re removing the media middle men,” Daniel Seaman, deputy director general of Israel’s Ministry of Public Diplomacy, told the Associated Press. “They used to say the Elders of Zion controlled the media. Well, here are the youngsters of Zion who are running it.” [] profiles The “Kids” Behind IDF’s Media, including Sacha Dratwa, a 26-year-old immigrant from Belgium who runs the army’s social-media operation. “We believe people understand the language of Facebook, the language of Twitter… What we try to do is to be fast and get information out before the old media,” Dratwa told “We believe people are getting information from social-media platforms, and we don’t want them to get it from other sources. We are the ones on the scene, and the old media are not on the scene.” []

What real effect will this information war have? Gilad Lotan, a data scientist who studies how information spreads in social networks, told the New York Times that Israel succeeded in getting its message out. “The IDF’s ‘propaganda’ has given Israel supporters all over the world digital ammunition that they can use to share, decontextualize and tell their version of the Israeli struggle. And it has worked. These pieces of media have been shared immensely on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.” []

Amid the fighting, even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took time to “thank all the citizens of #Israel and all over the #world who are taking part in the national information effort.” So reads a tweet Netanyahu sent on Nov. 12. []

Jon Mitchell of feels Israel’s social-media campaign is “brilliant in its way,” but he is troubled by one aspect. In addition to providing information, the Israel Defence Forces blog also rewards visitors for sharing the content by bestowing them “badges” and “ranks” which allow them to advance from “Green Private” to “Lieutenant General.” “It doesn’t matter what your opinion on the conflict itself is,” wrote Mitchell. “We’re not talking about the morals of war. We’re talking about propaganda, pure and simple. This kind of marketing is manipulative and sleazy on the best of days. It’s a way for propagandists to drag your friends/ brains into something by using you… To ‘gamify’ war is just absolutely unconscionable to me.” []

Ha’aretz’s Anshel Pfeffer says there are limits to what an effective social-media campaign can do. “There’s no way to transform a bombed-out house with its residents still inside and dead babies being dug out of the rubble into a PR coup.” []

Pfeffer continues, “Neglecting the info-wars or deserting the Internet is not an option for Israel, but it has to acknowledge its limitations. Hasbarah can achieve at most a tie. The electronic stalemate between Israel and Hamas has created also an equivalent perception of either side. It’s no longer an orderly sovereign state fighting a terror militia in a tiny coastal strip, but two Twitter accounts wrestling with each other.”

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