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

    Leaving Scalia Replacement to 2017 Would Mean Unusually Long Vacancy

    History of high court shows Obama not in unique situation during final year of presidency

    US Fact Checkers Debunk Some Republican Candidate Claims 

    Slim evidence for several claims made by Republican presidential candidates at their last debate ahead of next Saturday's key nominating election in South Carolina

    Uganda Presidential Debate a Small Victory for Democracy

    In homes and bars across country, Ugandans were fixated on their screens as eight political candidates running for president took part in national debate

    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.
    New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Ugandai
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    February 12, 2016 9:29 PM
    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video Refugees in Kenya Vie to Compete in Rio Olympics

    In Kenya, refugees from other African nations are training at a special camp and competing for a limited number of slots in this year's Rio Olympics under the flag of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Ngong, this is a first in Olympic history.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.