Social Media Takes Center Stage in Gaza War

Israel is going for a more informative tactic with its coverage of the war its fighting against Hamas militants in Gaza, and its using social media as one of its main forms of increasing its transparency, reports Times Online. After receiving a great deal of flack from not doing so during the 2006 attack on Hezbollah strongholds in Southern Lebanon, Israel realized that the Internet too can be a powerful weapon.

At least in the realm of PR and global perceptions.

Days after sending aircraft out to strike Hamas militants in Gaza, the Israeli government is launching a curated channel on YouTube and multiple Twitter streams in order to participate better in the blogosphere. Yesterday, followers of “israelconsulate” on Twitter could view live coverage updates of a citizen press conference held in order to further disseminate information regarding Israel’s stance on the war. Another Twitter stream tracks where Qassam rockets are falling in Israel.

Since online social media has become a powerful platform for citizen journalism and nearly every other form of published media including traditional journalism, many factions of governmental institutions have taken to the blogosphere and social networks for the same reasons of getting the word out. There are countless examples of political leaders, such as Barak Obama, leveraging YouTube, Twitter and even MySpace for gaining support and spreading a message.

But can social media be used by Israel as more than just a PR move? When engaging in conversations with the likes of Twitter followers, it’s evident that Israel not only cares about sending out its message, but answering as many questions as possible. PR move or not, such interaction (albeit virtual) can have a strong effect on attitudes citizens have towards a government entity.

As Twitter is already a very powerful tool for spreading news in real time, thanks to all the Twitter users that share news as they receive it themselves, I think it’s rather important for the government and political leaders to take advantage of the conversations that are already taking place. Even with today’s Twitter coverage of the press conference through “israelconsulate” it’s clear that Israel is turning to social media not just to spread information but to answer questions and participate in the existing conversations that run so rampant on Twitter and other social media platforms.

Not all efforts have come from Israel though. A less organized group of individuals have been active on Twitter, reporting from Gaza about the impact on Palestinian residents. There has also been some support from Al Jazeera who has set up their own Twitter account for reporting Twitter activities as well. It’s clear that the PR war is fierce no matter what way you’re trying to spin the story. Last time around, the opinion appeared to fall in favor of those against Israel.

This time both sides are leveraging social media heavily to try to win the war over public opinion. It will be interesting to see how it pans out this time around.