The War of Words: #Gaza – The role of New Media

I was asked to write an article for the Al Jazeera website on the current “war of words” that has taken place online during the conflict in Gaza…

Here is a copy of the article “Waging the web wars”

Waging the web wars

Propaganda has always played an important role in the way war is waged.

Using the available traditional media platforms – such as television, radio and print – governments have battled for mindshare in an attempt to convince the public that military engagements are serving their best interests.

Over time, new communication technologies have forced governments to realign their propaganda campaigns.

In the modern age of warfare, government spokespersons have provided major news networks the opportunity to engage, question and dissect domestic, foreign and military policies.

However, the recent war in Gaza has pushed the boundaries of traditional media as the debate on the conflict opened a new front – online.

Though television has continued to provide viewers with in-depth coverage of the conflict, it did not sufficiently allow the average, frustrated person on the street to express their views.

War of words

Enter the “social” internet – currently termed “War 2.0” or “War of Words” – where people from around the world used social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to express their opinions to a global audience.

With the internet becoming a battleground of ideas, the average person, armed with a keyboard and an internet connection, became a participant in the conflict.

On December 27, 2008, Israel launched ‘Operation Cast Lead’ against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Within minutes of the first missile landing in Gaza, global reactions appeared online.

During the first few days of the war, online discussions were restricted to war of words. Both sides engaged in heated debates and blamed each other for the fatal surge in military operations.

As the discussions grew, attempts were then made by supporters of both sides to establish a coordinated response aimed at combatting the other side’s propaganda.

With this awareness in mind, both Israel and the Palestinians resorted to a variety of media platforms to justify their positions and tactics used during the conflict.

Israeli supporters set up the Help Us Win website, and some Palestinian supporters created Gaza Talk.

Hundreds of groups were created on Facebook by Israelis and Palestinians to create an awareness of the facts as they saw them.

Israeli government reacts

The Israeli government also attempted to capitalise on the online conversations.Realising the importance these mediums play in the propaganda war, they held an unprecedented press conference on Twitter.

The Israeli army also set up a YouTube channel and uploaded videos of some of their air raids on Gaza.

While no official online presence has been established by Hamas, pro-Palestinian supporters have been using videos and images to effectively deliver their message.

The Israeli army showed simple black-and-white videos (without audio) of Hamas-launched rockets, while Palestinians offer vivid videos and images of the chaos and destruction on the ground in Gaza following Israeli air raids.

However, the images from Gaza allowed pro-Palestinian supporters to dominate this online war.

More engaged audiences

The battle to gain public favour is becoming increasingly difficult as governments try to meet the challenges of dealing with a more engaged audience.

On Facebook, hundreds of thousands of people have signed on pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups.

The group Let’s Collect 500000 Signatures to Support the Palestinians in Gaza has 630,002 members while the I Support the Israel Defence Forces In Preventing Terror Attacks From Gaza group has 85,308 members.

On Twitter, the tag “#Gaza” has been in the top 10 trending topics since the Gaza war began on December 27.

As the propaganda war enters a new phase, governments now need to fully embrace these new technologies and use them to their benefit.

Until then, online social communities will continue the debates which will likely last well beyond the current war in Gaza.

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Who Will Rule the New Internet?

Came across this article on the TIME website, its about “Who Will Rule the New Internet?”

Its def. worth a read….

According to Josh Quittner, Apple, Google & Facebook are the technology standard-bearers of todays age. Google- with its “open” web, Facebook- with its huge user base and “walled” off approach & Apple- with the highly controlled “experience.”

The article goes on to explain the success & strategies of three companies, one of the interesting points he raises with regards to Googles “Open” Web strategy VS Facebook is:

Social networks are a threat to that business; users tend to stay within their network and communicate among themselves or simply fool around with apps. When Facebook’s users are playing Scrabulous or tagging photos, for example, they’re not using Google. Indeed, they’re more likely to discover new things via friends or in-network applications such as iLike, a service that matches your friends’ musical tastes to your own.

The flaw in this theory is, facebook may be the biggest thing today, what happens when users get bored and start moving on to the next big site? It was MySpace yesterday, today its Facebook, tomorrow its going to be twitter? Or a microblogging site similar to it? The life cycle on a specific social networking site is still to be decided. Users are like sheep, and who is to say next year we wont see a mass migration to something completely new that has not even been developed yet?

According to Josh, Apple doesnt really care who wins the online war- as long as we use an Apple device to access the content. He quotes Matt Murphy (a venture capitalist) as saying:

He claims that the iPhone will “absolutely be the driver of the post-PC world.” Murphy points out that the kit needed by developers to build iPhone apps has been downloaded more than 200,000 times, and he estimates that about 1,000 applications will be available to consumers when the iPhone-apps store launches with the phone. “If you look at so many of the constraints that have held back the mobile ecosystem, Apple basically takes all of those away and provides an open platform, a great device and a user base that’s rabid for these new kinds of applications,” he says.

The best part of this article, is that Josh did not forget to mention Android. Googles open mobile platform that is due to hit the market place later this year. Andy Rubin, Googles Director of mobile platforms says:

Developers have so far written more than 1,800 applications, which could be distributed on a Google site arranged according to popularity, as YouTube is. “There’s some pretty innovative stuff there,” Rubin explains. “This is merging the handset and the Web and coming up with something completely new.

We’re in for an exciting second half of the year, with the iPhone 2 coming out in a couple of days & Android later in the year, its going to be very interesting to see which company will take the market by storm. Two companies, with very different go-to-market strategies. The problem Google may have, will be the actual device Android is running on… They have already signed deals with many companies (Moto, LG, HTC etc.), but if these companies are not able to provide a compelling UI like the iPhone, this would most likely see users moving towards the iPhone.

Nokia are also due to launch the N96 later this year, i’m sure Nokia will sell the most handsets, but their market share will be sure to take a bit of a knock with some serious competition from Android & Apple. For myself, this is the first year that is a seriously tough decision on which handset to buy? Will Nokia be able to come up with a device that provides a compelling user experience like what we have seen so far from Android and Apple? I doubt it. Regardless of who wins, its great to finally have some quality devices coming to market.

I suppose Google still has a 1 up on Apple & everyone else in the market- anyone who lands up buying an iPhone/Nokia will in the end, still be using Google/Youtube on their handset.

As for the battle of the internet, if Google actually own the platform on which you’re accessing facebook or the next big thing on your mobile, they dont have much to be worried out. At least in the short term…

Lets wait and see how this plays out in the coming months….