If you believe Twitter and Facebook, all of Gaza is one big schoolyard surrounded by hospitals and mosques, populated by children under 10 and women. You don’t often see the 17 to 25 year olds, masked and heavily armed, in photos. But that’s a large percentage of what Gaza “authorities” report as civilian casualties. Take off the mask, remove the weapons, and voila, a teenager.
The latest Israel-Hamas war has a different character than any before it. Possibly different than any war, ever. It’s the world’s first #hashtag war. Going beyond #hashtag diplomacy, this war is being fought on social media: Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.
The #hashtags, pictures, and blogs have more of an effect than just glowing pixels on an LCD. People show up for marches, donate funds, and form their opinions by the 24/7 drumbeat of social media glued to their thumbs via iPhone or Android device. There hasn’t been this kind of sea change in “war” coverage since color footage of Vietnam landed in American living rooms every night. Even the first Gulf War and Iraq were evolutionary in nature: Americans had gotten used to live remote broadcasts, it was just more compelling from the Al-Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad.
This war (and it is a war, there are two sides fighting) might just expose the biggest flaw in social media, the one that’s in front of our noses, but we ignore. Social media, #hashtags, trends, and endless blogging doesn’t effect real change.
If it did, Israel would have been conquered weeks ago. On the #gaza hashtag, for every tweet supporting Israel, there are at least ten condemning her. Such awful vitriol as this.
— chris murphy (@chrismurphys) August 4, 2014
Heart-rending images of war featuring children like this
— Mina (@mina_ysf) August 4, 2014
You never see images of actual Hamas fighters. They don’t exist. Maybe that’s because Hamas doesn’t allow those images to be taken, never mind tweeted. Even in free countries like Canada, the information flow can be one-sided.
— Hen Mazzig (@HenMazzig) August 4, 2014
The only tweets supporting Israel come from Israel itself.
— Embassy of Israel (@IsraelinUK) August 4, 2014
The #Israel hashtag results are not much different. A few more Israel supporters, but the only images of Gaza are crying and injured children, or the dead. Even the rest of Israel fades into the background, as if everyone there was sitting in camp chairs on the hills of Sderot watching the battle as spectators. But this just happened in Jerusalem.
— Michael Lawrence (@IsraelSpeaker) August 4, 2014
Israel has fought back on social media as best it can, and has made an enormous effort to promote its story. This is good, since nobody else is telling it. You would think that hacker groups such as Anonymous would have been able to attack Israel, but those efforts have so far failed. Possibly because Israel’s single largest unit in the IDF is Unit 8200, the cyber unit. The country’s best hackers, computer scientists and nerds join together to defend the country and strike back at those who attack her computer infrastructure.
Israeli Elite Force gained access to the computers of 16 Anonymous members and was able to capture screenshots and photos of the anti-Israel hackers with their own webcams. The Israeli team published the information in a Dropbox document via their Facebook page, saying, “Anonymous, next time do not mess with us.”
I can imagine there’s not much computer hacking going on in Gaza, although if you have a camera and take the wrong kinds of pictures, you’re likely to be threatened or have your equipment confiscated. There’s a reason the images coming out of Gaza are all the same: anything other than the “official Hamas” version simply isn’t allowed. It’s not like Tel Aviv, Sderot, Jerusalem, or anywhere in Israel where reporters are free to roam and report without handlers shadowing them.
There are two outcomes worth seeing in this terrible, awful war, both online and real world. The first is the total dismantling and destruction of Hamas’ tunnels into Israel. Even Hamas doesn’t (well, they can’t) deny the tunnels existence. The only reason these tunnels exist is for Hamas to wage war against Israel, kidnap civilians, and commit acts of terror. The second is the denuding of social media as a force for real change.
#Hashtag diplomacy has no effect on organizations like Boko Haram, who will continue their kidnapping and slaughter in Nigeria regardless of Michelle Obama’s tweets. It has no effect on ISIS in Syria, who will continue crucifying Christians for simply being Christians. It has no effect on Russia-controlled “separatists” in Donetsk who shoot down civilian airliners with impunity.
— Battlefield USA (@DomesticLiberty) August 4, 2014
Maybe we’ll learn from this war that when an enemy is determined enough to be evil, the medium that brought us cat pictures, celebrity gossip and Farmville doesn’t do a thing to stop them. Thankfully, Israel has realized that even when the whole world turns against it, it has the right and responsibility to face evil and deal with it in the real world. Imagine if they hadn’t.
#stoprocketingus #fillinthosetunnels #stopkillingourcitizens #Hamasleaveusalone. I wonder how those would have worked? Not so well I expect.