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May 9, 2022 11:18 am
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It’s Time for Israel to Fight Harder on Social Media

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avatar by Jonathan Frenkel

Opinion

TikTok app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

In order to help secure the future of Israel, the IDF must sway young audiences on social media to see Israel’s side in a conflict that has often been portrayed as the “oppressor versus the oppressed.” While social media consumers (especially on platforms such as TikTok) tend to support the perceived “underdog,” the IDF is a generation ahead of other militaries in how it shares its story.

With the recent TikTok video of an IDF soldier shooting into Gaza reminding us of the challenge facing Israel, thought leaders are weighing in on the IDF’s use of social media, and how the IDF can help leverage this developing medium to change the narrative.

Is sharing Israel’s side on social media even a battle that can be won? Demographic trends, and Gen Z attitudes towards conflict and power, are not encouraging. While the IDF is a people’s army, it is an army nonetheless. As research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation has found: “most generations tend to be more left-leaning than the previous generation, and Gen Z is no exception. While Gen Z-ers look a lot like Millennials on many key issues, they are the most politically progressive generation yet.”

There are both pros and cons to the IDF’s embrace of social media, as Gil Eyal, a thought leader and Partner at Starfund states: “I think the IDF needs to be very cautious about how it uses social media. When it’s under scrutiny it needs to respond. But it would be a mistake to think that public opinion can be won over with social media posts.”

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Regarding the IDF’s use of social media during last year’s conflict in Gaza, Joanna Landau — founder and CEO of Vibe Israel, and an expert in branding and marketing Israel — voiced concern on how military images play out on social media: “I feel that during Operation Guardian of the Walls, much of what was posted was not good for Israel’s image. Israel’s image doesn’t need to be managed only during a military operation, it needs to be managed before, during and after a military operation.”

Israel’s image on social media was often distorted and manipulated during the war. But this is a big problem, because today, social media is how people get their news: “according to the latest data from Pew Research, which incorporates responses from more than 9,200 Americans, around 71% of people now get at least some of their news input from social media platforms.”

Online influencers’ perspectives, and the content they share with their followers, is what drives stories today.

One thing that the IDF has sought to do is feature the human aspect of the army experience through the posts it shares. With platforms such as Instagram and TikTok being driven more by personalities than brands, this strategy is in line with current trends. The IDF’s soldiers represent the diverse cross section of Israel’s citizens — from a wide range of backgrounds — all taking part in a young person’s right of passage.

Landau believes that “on a daily basis, when there isn’t a major military operation going on, I think the social media department of the IDF is doing an amazing job, because they showcase not just that the Army is there to protect from harm, [but that] it’s so much more than that: a social network, a second home for lone soldiers, a second chance for kids who come from broken homes, a hub of innovation, a place where people with disabilities can thrive, and so much more. They use a variety of social media techniques and formats and do a great job.”

Israel’s strength has always been the IDF’s role as a people’s army, and as a result of that, local influencers with global reach — such as Or Elkayam Zuti, with millions of followers online — supported the IDF’s efforts during last May’s conflict.

As he said, “During operation Guardian of the Walls, I made a video on my TikTok to my 6 million followers, and told the story of our war against Gaza terrorists with my own words. I wanted to show the world what international media does not show them, not to mention professional Palestinian propagandists on social media. It reached almost 400k views and gained thousands of reactions from all over the world.”

In improving its presence on social media, there are tangible actions that the IDF could take — such as creating better content and creating it more often; working with experts in the social media space to help tell Israel’s story; and telling personal stories that use facts and individual citizens to  help correct the lies spread about Israel, such as that it practices “apartheid” or is a “white colonial enterprise.”

Finally, the IDF should consider different platforms to share their story on — from sites such as LinkedIn, to unconventional mediums such as e-sports or the new metaverse that is being created (with the help of Israeli tech).

Jonathan “Yoni” Frenkel is a content strategist, ghostwriter, and founder of YKC Media, a content marketing agency that works with the global tech/venture/startup community.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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