News / Middle East

Gaza Conflict Mirrored in Social Media Battle for Public Opinion

Thousands of miles away from the combat in Gaza, Palestinian and Israeli diplomats in the American capital are fighting their own war: on social media sites.

Rather than rockets, bombs and shells, the munitions are words. The battle for public opinion is marked by tweets from Washington.

In one case, tweets were fired off by the Palestinians so rapidly that one came just seconds after the other. The Israeli ambassador even held a Twitter Q-and-A in the midst of the fighting, receiving a major response from both supporters and critics.

Powerful imagery

Palestinians at their mission in Washington use graphic pictures and powerful words to describe the deaths in Gaza on social media, pointing to the asymmetry between Israeli and Palestinian lives lost, particularly with children. The Israeli embassy uses strong language and images of Hamas storing arms amidst the civilian population, the number of rocket attacks against Israel and the network of tunnels used by Hamas fighters.

While the Palestinian mission might post bloody pictures from a Gaza scene, the Israelis would show a field hospital where Israeli soldiers help treat Palestinians-or rocket damage in Israel.

Diplomats from each side are hoping to gain at least public sympathy and perhaps influence government or legislative action with their postings in such arenas as Twitter and Facebook.

Influencing public opinion is a key factor in modern warfare, particularly one like the Gaza conflict, according to former State Department official David Pollock, who now analyzes the Mideast for The Washington Institute think tank. “For both sides, it’s really part of the fight,” Pollock said. “It’s probably just as important as the traditional operation because it does determine how long the battle goes on.”

A colleague of Pollock’s recently gave a presentation in which he referred to the conflict in Gaza as three major campaigns: the air war, the ground war and the “media war.”

Policymakers' playbook

For the embassy social media outreach in Washington, “they are definitely trying to influence public opinion, the media, even indirectly, policymakers in the United States,” Pollock said.

Former U.S. official Pollock emphasized he believed that tweets or Facebook posts alone won’t change the course of the volatile situation.

“I’m skeptical it’s going to make a big difference in terms of direct appeals by the parties to the conflict,” he said. “I think people are probably inclined to discount both sides because they’re obviously going to be self-serving.”

 But where Twitter and Facebook, as well as YouTube or other social media, come into play is amplifying or getting the attention of traditional media. “I think that’s where the real influence is,” Pollock said. “The U.S. media probably does have an important impact on public opinion, and therefore, at least indirectly on the atmosphere in which policy is formulated. It’s not going to be decisive. It’s a factor.”

The Israeli effort seems to have volume behind it. “Today, the Embassy has more than 200,000 friends and followers,” on Facebook and Twitter, Jed Shein, digital director at the Israeli embassy in Washington, stated in an email interview.

“In the situation like Israel is in today, there's a flood of information coming from every direction,” he added. “We share facts on the ground and seek to ensure that our voice is heard.”                                

Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer was heard by many in his Twitter question-and-answer session earlier this month. Dermer answered 13 questions, including those from impassioned critics.

Many others posted bluntly-worded criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza under the interview’s Twitter hashtag #AskDermer, which ultimately drew 27,000 responses, according to social media analysis site Topsy. Both Israel’s Haaretz newspaper and Al-Jazeera described the ambassador as being in “hot water” over the way it turned out.

But the Israeli embassy seemed pleased with the large response. Shein claimed the interview’s Twitter hashtag at one point trended number one in the United States and number three worldwide. “We thought the Q [and] A would be popular, but those numbers beat our expectations,” he said.

The Palestinian mission in Washington did not respond to calls and emails about its social media strategy, but a staff member pointed to Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the Palestine Center in Washington. Munayyer is a significant pro-Palestinian voice in Washington with more than 16,000 followers on Twitter.

“Social media has “served Palestinians tremendously because it has allowed them to get their voice into the conversation,” Munayyer said. “It allowed Palestinians to get out there in this marketplace of ideas and in the past, they have not had this kind of access.”

Another factor in social media is the ability to influence media coverage. “Now, your criticism might actually have an effect on the way the story evolves before it gets into print,” said Munnayer. “It’s not actually responding to media coverage. It is actually shaping it.”

When Palestine Center director Munnayer felt cut off on the issue of Hamas by a conservative U.S. talk show host, he  responded by tweeting the TV host became “unhinged” at  his comments.

Echoing Tweets

Interestingly, many of the official Israeli and Palestinian posts still refer to mainstream media reports on the issues. They might tweet a sentence beforehand giving the article their spin.

But both sides, for example, cite articles in The Washington Post and appearances on American television networks.

In addition to adding potential credibility when citing a media report, for diplomats it avoids having tweets reverberate on the embassy or mission where it can be seen as official policy. “I’m sure that plays into their thinking,” said Munayyer.

Heavy use of Twitter could wind up working against diplomats if words aren’t well chosen, Pollock warned. “It’s so fast and it seems to be so casual, it can lead to hasty ill-considered, impulsive or just uniformed comments. It’s a little bit dangerous actually for officials to indulge themselves too much with this.”

Pollock warned, “It is so intense, it can be a trap, rather than a real useful tool.”

 

 


 

 

 


Lee Michael Katz

Lee Michael Katz is an award-winning journalist, analyst and author.

Currently a prominent freelance writer, Katz is the former Senior Diplomatic Correspondent of USA Today and International Editor of UPI News Service.He has reported from more than 60 countries.  Katz’s expertise includes foreign policy and diplomacy, peace talks, national security, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction policy, foundation grants, business and financial topics.

You May Like

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Alistair walker from: Angus scotland
August 05, 2014 1:50 PM
I find it intolerable that Israel has been allowed to inflict such violence on the peoples of Gaza without severe pressure being applied to them by other countries throughout the world . They explanation that missiles have launched against them by Hamas as though this give them authority. What do they expect from peoples who have been so very abused over many years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs