Tragic images of dead, mutilated and maimed Syrian children have sadly never captivated Western attention as they did this week when Hamas, and allied purveyors of the terror group’s narrative, flooded social media networks with them, falsely labeling them as victims of Israeli strikes in Gaza.
Their propaganda strategy is in many ways similar to their rocket strategy: Fire indiscriminately and repeatedly and hope that a target is found. As goes the famous Mark Twain quote, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”
This is what information age terrorism looks like, and it is every bit as ugly and damaging as its Qassam firing counterpart. What Israel’s enemies hope to achieve is simple; paralysis. By spinning enough false tales of “Israeli crimes,” Hamas builds negative public sentiment, and thus steers diplomatic efforts towards halting Israel’s efforts to root out the terror threat that faces its citizens daily.
The Jewish state’s hands are held behind its back by the U.S., E.U., U.N., and others, while Hamas and Islamic Jihad are set loose on the soft underbelly of Israel’s southern communities.
On this front, which is as important, if not more so than what takes place in Gaza, Israel has no qualitative edge, no advanced weaponry, no Mossad, Shin Bet or American aid. In fact, Israel stands at a distinct disadvantage, as the sovereign state cannot, and will not, spread false information. Israel doesn’t publish exposed images of the dead bearing mortal wounds, and most in the media are predisposed to accepting and propagating Hamas’ narrative for any number of reasons.
This round however, for the first time since I began noticing, I have seen reason for a small measure of optimism in the way this war has been waged by Israel and her allies.
Never in the history of warfare has a social media account been the central and primary source of information conveyed by one side, but the IDF announced the launch of Operation Pillar of Defense and the targeting of terror chief Ahmed al-Jabari on Twitter, as well as many subsequent breaking news updates. In my estimation, the number of followers of the IDF account more than doubled over the past 10 days to reach 204,469 at the time of publication.
The indication is that the IDF is finally beginning to fully grasp the impact that the global democratization of information can have on their efforts to convey Israel’s narrative. Now Israel’s army can speak directly to the people, without the spin doctoring of agenda driven newsroom editors around the world. Old media is falling, CNN, The New York Times, The Guardian and others, are simply becoming less influential in an interconnected world where everyone has social media access to anyone. Why would I filter my news through a TV editor when I can connect directly to the source? For more and more young people, the first port of call for daily updates is Facebook or Twitter, no longer the morning news, the daily paper of even an online news source of choice.
This doesn’t by any means mean that Israel’s media problem is over, only that we are heading in a direction whereby the playing field may become more level. Of course Israel’s cyber enemies are afforded the same advantages that the new information age brings, but as mainstream media outlets continue to recede in relevance, Israel may find itself on substantially more even footing than it does today.
Another cause for optimism is the meteoric rise of a new cadre of pro-Israel cyber warriors that have scored some monumental victories in this round of the ongoing information war.
Anonymous bloggers like Elder of Ziyon, who from behind a computer screen, armed with nothing more than a sharp eye for falsehood and an abundance of common sense, forced retractions and corrections (albeit some half-heartedly) from such media giants as London’s Telegraph newspaper and CNN. The outlets had falsely reported as fact, Hamas’ claims that four year old Mahmoud Sadallah, who was famously pictured cradled in the hands of Egypt’s Prime Minister, was killed in an Israeli airstrike. In truth, as Elder proved, he was killed by a Hamas rocket that fell short, landing in Gaza.
Others include Challah Hu Akbar, who meticulously surveys reports of civilian casualties in Gaza for discrepancies and falsehoods, BBC watch, who embarrassed the British network’s Gaza correspondent, Jon Donnison, after he posted one of the false Syria images on Twitter. Other such troopers go by the names of Brian of London, Missing Peace, Emet, Carl in Jerusalem, Aussie Dave, Huff Watcher and Daled Amos. There are a number of increasingly tech savvy larger Jewish groups that are becoming more digitally active as well.
Their continued success in showing up major media outlets further diminishes the trust that old media commands, driving consumers to seek more direct sources for information.
As thousands of IDF reservists are still massed on Gaza’s borders, drafted to do battle in the flesh on behalf of the Jewish state and the Jewish people, the call up goes out to all guardians of morality around the world. If you own a computer or an iPhone, you are already standing on Israel’s other battlefield, on which a ceasefire has not been called. Now, grab your mouse and fight like the Jewish future depends on it.