Gaza conflict: the social media front line

Israelis and Palestinians wage an online war of information, but is it just a 'minefield of propaganda'?

Social media: creating propaganda in the Israel-Palestine conflict?
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict accelerates in Gaza, another war is being waged by both sides on social media.

Since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge an "intense social media battle" has raged, the BBC reports. Hamas and the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) have become increasingly active across all major social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Flickr as they seek to rally support.

Israel's social media campaign:

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Hamas terrorists operate from schools, mosques & hospitals— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 17, 2014

The IDF's official Twitter account provides live updates on rocket launches, Israeli casualties and its various offensives. The Israeli government has also recruited hundreds of students to take part in its 'hasbara', or public diplomacy campaign, the Guardian reports. "We counter Palestinian propaganda and explain the Israeli perspective," student campaigner Ben-Yosef said. "Social media is another place where the war goes on. This is another way to tell our story."

Earlier this week, the Israeli Prime Minister's was caught buying tweets to increase support for its military operation in Gaza, Al Jazeera reports.

The Palestinian campaign:

There has been a surge in activity on the Twitter account of al-Qassam, Hamas's military wing. The group tries to maximise its reach by posting in English, Arabic and Hebrew. It has been criticised for posting extremely graphic and distressing images of dead or injured children.

The group's English language account was suspended today. Twitter refused to comment for "privacy and security reasons" but speculation on social media suggests it contravened Twitter's code of conduct by posting graphic pictures.

Numerous hashtags such as #GazaUnderAttack, #StopIsrael and #PrayForGaza were set up to highlight attacks on Palestinian civilians. Hamas also published this YouTube video with instructions on posting to social media.

Palestinian activists who are not connected to Hamas are also playing an important part in this social media war, Al Jazeera reports. "Social media started revolutions," Mahmoud Hrebat, a young Palestinian activist said. "It is a tool not to be underestimated."

The benefits of the social media campaigns

Social media accounts give both sides the chance to tell their side of the story, and many were set up amid accusations that the mainstream media failed to represent their point of view.

Nevertheless, the most "strategically important" section of the audience that each side hopes to reach includes "the journalists who follow their accounts, Philip Howard, professor of communication at Washington University, told the BBC. "They know that a well-placed tweet can help spin news coverage."

And the disadvantages

Churchill's claim that "a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on" has rarely been more apt. The social media war has become "a minefield of propaganda and misinformation", reports the Independent, and each side accuses the other of spreading deceptive statistics and propaganda. Images posted online are often difficult to verify and misleading pictures from previous conflicts are often widely circulated.

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