Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca L. Stein have an interesting article on the Middle East Report website about the use of the internet and social media in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is an issue we’ve touched on here on the site, but it’s good to read a much more rigorous discussion of current trends and where things might be headed.
From their article, Another War Zone: Social Media in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:
As the stronger party in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel is accustomed to writing the dominant draft of history. As such, the state’s marked loss of control over the public narrative that followed the flotilla episode narrative has caused no small amount of consternation and surprise among its supporters. Some of the criticism has been directed at Israelis and pro-Israel activists. Writing ruefully about the the failure of Israeli supporters adequately to respond in kind, Amir Mizroch pronounced Israel the loser in the ongoing social media wars: “We may be a startup nation, but we are bricks-and-mortar communicators.”
In the months that followed, Israel would receive more bad press in the digital sphere. First, video footage of a group of Israeli combat soldiers performing a choreographed dance through the streets of occupied Hebron — streets forcibly emptied of their Palestinian residents — went viral on the Internet, earning the offenders an army reprimand. More recently, the digital sphere was saturated with the Facebook images uploaded by a young Israeli female soldier shown smiling in front of blindfolded Palestinians — images that, for many pundits, resonated with those from Abu Ghraib. In the exposé that followed, Israeli newspapers reported on the prevalence of this digital activity. They noted the frequency with which soldiers in other units had taken and shared similar photographs from their military service or posted video clips of their everyday army activities on YouTube — despite IDF regulations forbidding the posting of such images on security grounds. The Palestinian Authority indicted these images as evidence of how military occupation has corrupted the occupier.
Wikipedia has become the latest locus of these digital skirmishes. In August, the Yesha Council representing Jewish settlers in the West Bank responded to the perceived crisis of Israeli public relations by sponsoring a course on the “Zionist editing” of the omnipresent informational website. Some 50 people attended the first training session, where participants were informed that the person who enters the greatest number of “Zionist” editorial changes — such as identifying Ariel as in Israel rather than on occupied land — would win a hot-air balloon ride. In response, the Association of Palestinian Journalists called on Palestinian institutions to edit Wikipedia entries with Palestinian interests in mind, arguing for the need to respond digitally to the latest phase of Israel’s “public relations war.”
It is now nearly a truism to note that digital media is fundamentally changing the terrain of politics, due to its reach and speed, and its function in the lives of civilian populations and states alike. In the early years of the Internet, many journalists and scholars celebrated its emancipatory promise, such as the opportunities for “digital democracy” and the ways cyber-activism might assist in destabilizing and even toppling authoritarian regimes. Social media enjoyed particular political prominence amidst the Twitter-fueled tumult in Tehran following Iran’s contested 2009 presidential election. Yet as digital technologies have spread, and their user base has broadened, states and non-state actors have appropriated them for purposes that Internet boosters never envisioned. The emerging forms of digital warfare — the stealth bombings of hackers, the passionate arguments in talkbacks and on Facebook, the visual battlefield of videos and photographs — can be seen as mirroring or even intensifying warfare on the ground, fueling hatred and reaffirming state power. But they can also be understood and employed as a powerful alternative to repressive military violence.