What happens when the military becomes its own media?

November 15, 2012
Category: Uncategorized

BuzzFeed | All Things D | YouTube | Facebook | Washington Post

The Israeli Defense Forces is making aggressive use of social media like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to document and justify its latest assault on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

BuzzFeed’s Matt Buchanan documents how the @IDFSpokesperson account “basically declared war on Hamas” and has been tweeting photos and videos of the assault. He writes:

[The IDF’s] live-tweeting its assault on Hamas may well be the most meaningful change in our consumption of war in over 20 years. This is something new.

… Using the tools of social media, as Israel is doing, reveals there’s no longer a need to rely [on] a media middleman, or to filter the raw feed of war through an “embedded” — and, military officials hope, captured — journalist’s mouth or keyboard. A nation is officially tweeting its wartime activities. The military can broadcast exactly what it wants to, directly to its citizens, allies, and enemies. The IDF even appropriates the language of news, prefacing several tweets with “BREAKING” — and native social media, at one point saying “in case you missed it” before pointing to a YouTube video.

The IDF announces the start of its offensive on Twitter.

The IDF YouTube channel has almost 48,000 subscribers and 24.8 million video views. In the past day it has added videos of attacks, as well was several videos intending to diffuse criticism by showing efforts to avoid civilian casualties.

One aerial video the IDF posted to YouTube Wednesday already has more than 850,000 views, and growing fast. It shows the destruction of a vehicle carrying a senior Hamas operative. Google blocked that video for several hours after users “flagged” it as offensive, but upon further review the company decided to restore it.

One question this raises is whether such videos and photos violate the terms of service of social networks. Most networks have rules that ban graphic violence or threats, and they will have to decide how stringently to apply those restrictions to national governments.

Meanwhile, the real journalists are still sacrificing to cover the battle, and some are paying a very personal price. The 11-month-old son and the sister-in-law of BBC journalist Jihad Misharawi died when an Israeli round struck their home in Gaza Thursday.

The Washington Post ran a front-page AP photo today of a distraught Misharawi holding his son’s body, and Max Fisher tells the story behind it.