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

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network 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.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs