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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs