As Israel continues another wave of bombing in Gaza, current reports of numbers of people killed is 15 and hundreds injured, including the 11 month old son of BBC Arabic photo editor, Jihad Misharawi. 3 Israelis have been killed from rockets fired into Israel by Hamas military wing Al Qassam Brigade. “Israel has called its attacks Operation Pillar of Defense”
Its might seem academic and flippant to frame this post from the perspective of social media. My chosen headline is tabloid but my intent isn’t. Social media communication tools and their enabling capacities – for people to make their immediate experiences voices, video, images and texts visible to other human being far beyond their geographical location – are transformative in ways, i feel, we have yet to grapple with as a conscious public. I explored a wee bit of this in some research looking at social media and its dimensions during and within the Egyptian revolution. This was from the perspective of some activists and student journalists involved in that revolution and also from my own perspective as a curious punter/human being and as a ‘citizen journalist’ – a term I came across after the fact- simply using social media tools. These communication tools enabled me to follow and speak directly to Egyptians as well as people within my own social network. Most of this is kinda common sense, and with most activist social research a main focus becames how can we use this stuff for struggles for a (more) egalitarian world.
One of my main claims was that social media tools where not merely the means for communication between people, but that what these tools offered was being shaped by people acting as conscious socio-political actors within the forum of the internet, and because of this they were also creating new public spaces of conversation and engagement. As these public spaces of conversations, voyeurism and bottom up local/citizen journalism grew both numerically and coherency ie the idea we can begin to understand and theorise this from experience, observation and reflections, the idea of the internet being a separate ‘virtual’ world made less and less sense.
Whilst most of that research looked at how activists and radical organisations used things like Facebook and Twitter alongside mobile technology, offering tools and means of organisation and representation that sidestepped mainstream media in many ways, I also looked a little at state versus grassroots actors. And in that sense around the latest attack in Gaza we have seen people live tweeting video and images, reports of bombing. There have been the international networks of groups like Telecomix sharing info on how to stop or get around potential deliberate attempts to shut down the internet in Gaza etc. The Anonymous network of online activists rolled out #OpIsrael defacing and DDoSing official state websites in solidarity with the people in Gaza.
5 years ago all this would seems very new, and very radical. Now its power for the course, thought its implication and impacts are again something to be teased out more.
Up until very recently many states relationships and use of social media in areas of conflict and social unrest tended to be about censorship and reducing people ability to use or share information. From Mubarak shutting down the internet during the uprising in Tahrir and across Egypt, to British MP calling for the UK police to have the power to shut down Twitter in the wake of the Tottenham-London-UK riots, state have tended towards a reactionary stance to technological developments when the felt things were getting out of control within the population they exercised power over. Inter state conflicts have also seen communication technology both tools and site of struggle as well. The Stunix virus developed by Israeli and US military secret agencies to disrupt a Iranian nuclear energy programme is perhaps the most well known. We have also witness both Iranian and Syrian armies set up “cyber” units, which are well resourced army units that target opposition websites and using the net for pretty sophisticated intelligence gathering and suppression of democractic movements. Its should be noted that almost all the technology for so this is created and sold by western corporation, who are de facto complicit in continued oppresions.
However over the last 48 hours we have seen the Israel state – and more specifically the Israeli Defense Forces use Twitter both to report on its attack in Gaza and also to issue threats to members of Hamas, as it drop bombs in Gaza killing civilians. Its pretty basic propaganda, and as such not a particularly radical use of Twitter.
Whats interesting is its choice to do so at all. What even more interesting is Twitter temporarily banning the IDF account for – it seems – promoting than threatening violence to people in Gaza.
The Hamas military wing have also been using Twitter too, responding directly to the IDF.
To be honest im not sure what this means other than military organisations clearly being conscious that new emerging spaces of conversation and publics are important enough for them to be engaging. This undoubtedly is part of a PR and communication strategy for both side, tweeting as they are in real time in an increasingly intense time in this conflict. That a corporation like Twitter would even temporarily ban a state such as Israel from using its platform is worthy of thinking out a bit more too.