How Twitter has become part of Israel’s war machine

BuzzFeed: The Israel Defense Forces just launched a bloody assault on the Palestinian militant group Hamas. And it launched the assault on Twitter.

The advent of CNN and its live coverage of first Persian Gulf War may have been the first real taste we had of watching war happen in real time, and that is more or less how we’ve consumed war ever since.

But while Americans’ interest in Iraq and Afghanistan faded since the dramatic “shock and awe” assault on Baghdad in March of 2003, before YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook came into their own or even existed, the media and technology have become more sophisticated. And Israel’s government, ever conscious of its image with sometimes-skeptical European and American allies, has changed effectively with the times. In 2010, for instance, the IDF was quick to post to YouTube a video of its bloody and controversial assault on a humanitarian “flotilla” to Gaza. The video, annotated with text, circles, and arrows, showed activists attacking Israeli commandos as the Israelis tried to seize their ship, and effectively complicated the international impulse to condemn the incident.

Now the official Twitter account of the Israel Defense Forces’ 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.

Much of the criticism of the American media during the height of the Iraq War focused on its role repeating White House talking points and propaganda. But using the tools of social media, as Israel is doing, reveals there’s no longer a need to rely 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 of it killing Ahmed Jabari in a missile strike. And unlike any propaganda machine before it, it’s inherently viral. It’s designed to spread. So the IDF spokesperson provides posters and YouTube videos and a constantly updated Flickr account; they’re more shareable than plain text. Its tweets are a mixture of documentation, saber rattling, sober reminders of the reality of war, and upbeat updates on the advanced state of its technology. All delivered direct to you. Please RT.

(Twitter did not respond to requests asking it to comment as to whether the IDF’s tweets violates Twitter’s terms of service.)

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