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Israel, Hamas Fight Gaza Conflict Online

  • Jessica Stahl

Israel and Hamas are fighting in the Gaza Strip, but the conflict is also being fought in an unusual venue – online. Both sides are trying to win the public relations battle by getting their version of what’s happening out on social media.

Israel announced the start of military operations against Hamas not in a televised speech or a press release, but on Twitter, where Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesman Avital Leibovitch tweeted:

The IDF’s official Twitter account followed with a similar announcement. A formal press release reached news organizations several minutes to an hour later.

Since then, the Israeli military has continued documenting what it is calling operation “Pillar of Defense” live on social media sites, announcing accomplishments, keeping a running tally of rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel, and providing justifications for IDF actions.

All in conveniently retweetable bits:

The IDF has long been known for its sophisticated social media operations. It runs accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr and launched a Tumblr account the same day as it launched Pillar of Defense. In addition to accounts in English, the IDF releases information on social media in Hebrew and several other languages.

But Hamas has not left the final word to the IDF. The Twitter account for the Al Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, has been just as active in documenting the conflict from a Palestinian point of view. They have not only been sharing what they see as their own military successes, but also trading varying accounts of the facts with the IDF, and have even responded directly to IDF tweets.

If the goal of these efforts on both sides is to garner attention, they are succeeding. The tweet to which Hamas was responding has been shared some 4,700 times. The IDF’s Twitter account has gained over 50,000 new followers since the campaign began (to Hamas’ 10,000), and the hashtag #gazaunderattack, being used by Hamas, has been tweeted over a hundred thousand times (to the IDF’s #pillarofdefense hashtag’s tens of thousands).

"Might this open the door for a new kind of war? One not led on the bloodied burning fields of battle, but inside of cyber space?" wondered one user of social sharing site Reddit.

But social media users are also questioning the ethics of using social media to publicize war in this way. It’s not the first time conflicts have been documented on social media by the militaries involved in them, but it’s one of the most extensive to date.

“Not sure if I find this amusing or sad,” pondered another Redditor.

Joseph Flatley of the culture site The Verge was more certain of his opinions. He wrote that his "reaction to the announcement was visceral: One liveblogs award shows or CES keynotes, not armed conflict."

The seemingly trivial approach to deadly warfare that put Flatley on edge is also leading others to question whether this sort of conversation should be permissible at all on social media sites. Most sites have terms of use that prohibit hate speech or threats of violence.

So far social media sites haven’t seen the IDF or Hamas’ use as a violation of their terms of service.

A Facebook spokesperson told tech site All Things D, “Facebook will not be taking action on the current content posted.”