War and politics by social media – Middle East conflict charts new course with live tweets and YouTube

16/11/2012

As the official channels on both sides start feeding their wins and casualties into Twitter and YouTube, and ugly unease emerges in how news is being released. In the last few weeks the Israeli government and Hamas have clearly prioritised social media channels as their routes in attempting to own news delivery, yet highly politicised and unverified accounts mark a risky twist in what constitutes reliable news.

Military strikes between The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas have been particularly intense in recent days, and that aggression has spilled over onto social media

The comments, which can be seen as threat of large scale violence from both sides, have forced Twitter and Google’s YouTube (and governments for that matter) to reassess how comments are policed on social networking sites.

It potentially brings the warring parties into conflict with Twitter's own rules, which state: "Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others."

Like the Arab Spring last year, the move marks another instance of a high-profile social network being used for to spread political messages, and could be sign of things to come in modern warfare.

Background

The verified Twitter account of the Israeli Defense Forces has been tweeting a running commentary about its campaign against militants in Gaza. Militants in Gaza -- both literally and figuratively -- are firing back. The tweets coincide with the death of Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jaabari.

The Israeli Defense Forces' Twitter account said that the two main goals of the operation that killed Jaabari are to protect Israeli civilians and to cripple terrorist infrastructure in the "#Gaza Strip."

Hamas' military wing posted its own hash tag-laden response, tweeting that an Israeli military base had been hit with dozens of mortars in response to the assassination of its leader.

Israel retorted that no Hamas operatives should "show their faces above ground" in the coming days. Not to be outdone, Hamas replied that Israel had "Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves".

The Israeli Defense Forces fired the final salvo -- for now -- with this tweet, which showed a twitpic photo of Jaabari with word "Eliminated".

Hamas's @AlqassamBrigades account quickly retorted, "@idfspokesperson Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves."
Social networking sites such as those operated by Twitter and Facebook have been used to energize political campaigns, promote movies, raise awareness and, in the Middle East, galvanize the popular revolutions of the Arab Spring.

But this new development signals a step change in how media is being consumed, as people switch from traditional media to social media. The implications for digital channels mean this will bring in more audiences, but it also calls into question the need for filters and editors to counter partisan views.

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