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Retweeting the war on Gaza

Amal Awad
Published: November 21, 2012 - 9:59AM

The conflict raging in Gaza is the worst we’ve seen in four years and while we’re far from media saturation, it’s certainly capturing headlines. A truce mediated by Egypt appears to hinge on Israel’s acquiescence, whose air strikes on Gaza have continued unabated for a week.

A truce notwithstanding, much damage has already been done, with casualties rising, in the name of self-defence. Yet, the timbre of the media narrative is so deeply unbalanced, it’s difficult to comprehend how so many innocent lives lost can be diminished to “self-defence”. 

It’s not surprising that Gaza’s political parties remain the terrorists in a land occupied since 1948. But seeing BBC reportage referring to the deaths is disheartening to say the least. While Israelis are “killed”, Palestinians “die”. This is the feral language of war.

The occupier becomes the victim, while the oppressed unfortunately fade, a rising statistic so large it becomes meaningless. The media reports four Israeli deaths as real, tangible loss, while Palestinians are collateral damage.

Meanwhile, social media, ubiquitous and, arguably, a powerful tool when it comes to shaping mass opinion remains saturated in the conflict. These days, we go to Facebook and Twitter to gauge sentiment.

My Facebook feed is jammed with quotes, op-eds and disturbing images of bloodied dead children. They seem oddly out of place in a forum that’s more suited to innocuous pursuits, sandwiched as they are between memes and birthday party snaps.

But even the Israeli military sees the muscle of social media and is making best use of it. Why else would it be live-blogging and tweeting its victories over Hamas, a democratically elected authority for Gaza?

Social media now plunges us headlong into conflict, asking us – in an act of near futility – to think about what we can do stop the bloodshed before we move on to the next Instagram shot of someone’s dessert.

There is something grotesque about it, though saying nothing is not an option. Even as we try to carry on with our lives, images of carnage embedded in our brain, and with the region so deeply riven by conflict, it’s pointless to think we can continue on, happily detached from something that we feel doesn’t have a direct impact on us.

Social media is a platform the Israel Defence Forces is actively using, with a campaign to garner support globally and maintain firm control over news coverage. The IDF goes so far as to tweet developments, using hashtags, as it rains down destruction on a small strip of land. In a move that beggars belief but borders on comical, @IDFSpokesperson even delivered the following warning to Hamas on Twitter, as though the members might be attached to their smartphones awaiting instruction from Israel:

“We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”

As readwrite social’s Jon Mitchell notes: “We’ve never seen anything quite like this.”

And indeed we haven’t. Because there seems to be no limit to Israel’s portrayal of war. While Mitchell originally praised the genius behind tightly controlling the flow of information to the media, his post on Israel’s updated blog doesn’t drip so deeply in awe.

Noting that the IDF blog has “atrocious gamification badges”, offering points and rewards to users for sharing content to social media, he’s critical of the approach.  Ten visits gives you the "Consistent" badge. Searching the blog numerous times awards you the title of "Research Officer".

“Yes, Israel has gamified war. This is absolutely horrendous.”

And yet, it’s nothing new. Israel is just making war cool, and enlisting helpers as it repeats the same tired story to the rest of the world – even with its advanced military technology, illegal settlements and continued displacement of Palestinians, and a wall that separates people from their own land, it is the victim.

Apparently the ''game'' has been active since July, and while it wasn’t on display for a time, it went live again following the attack on Hamas. According to Mitchell, the “game” was even promoted on the front page.

It’s impossible to fathom how anyone could justify this trivialisation of war. People are being killed and the conflict is spiralling out of control, but observers can titillate themselves with a reward system for taking a side.

As Mitchell summarises, gamification is offensive when it’s carried out by coupon companies, let alone an actual war.

“Israel is trying to enlist the people of the world in its campaign with military ranks, badges and points. Innocent people are dying on all sides, and the IDF wants to reward people for tweeting about it.”

It certainly places social media into a vastly different realm – no longer is war primarily won on the ground. While you can launch an offensive from a different city with the click of a mouse, you can try to persuade the viewing public that the spectacle of bloodshed is something to enjoy. Indeed, one is left wondering how something as innocuous as a tweet can become a weapon of war.

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