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.

Al Jazeera New Media….

Following on from my last post- I was asked to go on air again to talk about our new interactive map (second appearence on AlJazeera)… Incase you’ve missed it, our new services are proving to be a fantastic tool in covering the war on Gaza. If you don’t believe me check out what WIRED and NPR had to say….

Getting tweets from the war zone is so 2008. The latest social media advance combines tools like Twitter, text messaging, and online mapping to gather up first-hand reports, straight from Gaza.

Oh and the CEO of twitter, EV,  sent out a message referring to our Gaza Twitter Stream….


Getting reviews online is always comforting- however the circumstances under which we rolled out these services aren’t. Lets hope and pray that the killing comes to an end and crisis reporting will no longer be needed…

Here is my interview on AJ: