Why I’m Torn About @IDFSpokesperson’s Coverage Of The Israel-Gaza Conflict

By Megan O'Neill 

As someone who experienced living through two wars during my time in Israel (the 2006 Lebanon War and the Gaza “Operation Cast Lead” War in 2008), it’s interesting to be experiencing the Israel-Gaza conflict from the other side of the world and watching as things unfold through tweets, Facebook status updates and blog posts.  But I have to admit, I’m torn by the IDF’s coverage of the conflict on social media.

I should mention that I’m a dual citizen – American and Israeli.  I recently moved back to the United States after living in Israel for six and a half years – near the city of Beer-Sheva for half a year, which has been sustaining a large portion of the rocket fire over the past couple of days, and then in Tel Aviv, which just came under attack as well in the last few hours.  I’ve been watching as my Facebook newsfeed fills up with nervous status updates from friends, images of families sleeping in bomb shelters, and videos featuring sirens and rockets, and surprisingly, real-time updates from the IDF itself.

These days, Twitter is often one of the first places we hear about major world events, from revolutions to natural disasters.  That being said, I was still incredibly surprised to learn yesterday, via a tweet, that the Israel Defense Forces had embarked on an operation against Hamas and a war had begun in Gaza.

Yesterday morning, around 9:30 a.m. Eastern time, @IDFSpokesperson tweeted that, “The IDF has begun a widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the #Gaza Strip, chief among them #Hamas & Islamic Jihad targets.”  Minutes later they tweeted, “The first target hit, minutes ago, was Ahmed Al-Jabari, head of the #Hamas military wing.”  The tweet linked to a post on the IDF blog that explained, “The purpose of this operation was to severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership, as well as its terrorist infrastructure.”  They reported that, “The IDF will continue to target sites that are used for carrying out terror attacks against the citizens of Israel while improving their daily security.”

Shortly thereafter, a video of the IDF Pinpoint Strike on Ahmed Jabari hit YouTube, where it has accrued over 800,000 views so far (despite being blocked and reinstated by YouTube).

The video, along with several other Tweets from the IDF, including one that said, “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” and another that featured a meme-like image of Ahmed Jabari with an “ELIMINATED” stamp, drew some criticism for being too militant and threatening.

On the opposition’s side, Alqassam Brigades have been live-tweeting their attacks on Israel as well.  At one point yesterday they were tweeting the news of rockets being fired at different cities in Israel every few minutes.  It’s unsettling, to say the least.

It appears, on the one hand, that the IDF is using Twitter as a means of making this conflict, and their part in it, as transparent as possible.  They are letting the world know exactly what they are doing, as well as why they are doing it.  I think this is incredibly important, as Israel is too easily cast in the role of “the bully” by the mainstream press abroad.

Case in point: this morning The Washington Post featured an image on the front page of a man in Gaza crying while holding the body of his dead infant next to the headline ‘Israeli Aircraft Pound Gaza.’  The portion of the article that made it onto the front page makes only passing mention of the rockets fired into southern Israel and nothing of the 1 million Israelis that spent last night in bomb shelters.  Much of the world is oblivious to the fact that Hamas has been firing rockets on Israel for months, years even.

With this sudden barrage of Twitter and Facebook activity, and as of this afternoon, an official IDF Tumblr featuring videos and infographics to “spread the truth,” it seems that Israel is taking the initiative to inform the world about what’s happening in Israel and to show people that Israelis are being victimized too.  The problem is, they are going about it in such a militant, cocky fashion that I’m afraid it’s backfiring.  Tweets like yesterday’s, warning Hamas operatives not to show their faces above ground, cast the IDF in the exact role they’re trying to steer clear of—the bully.

The IDF has a long history with social media and has been ahead of the pack when it comes to using sites like Twitter for military use.  Back in 2010, I heard IDF Spokesperson Lt. Aliza Landaz speak at Jeff Pulver’s #140conf in Israel about how the IDF used Twitter to save lives in Haiti, as well as how they were using Twitter as a tool to provide followers with information and updates from the IDF in real time.

Now the IDF is ahead of the pack once again, being the first military not only to announce the start of a war on Twitter, but also to live-tweet as events unfold.  I’m just not so sure they’re projecting the right image this time.

Megan O’Neill is the resident web video expert here at Social Times.  Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.