Gaza cyber-struggle takes missile war to second battlefield

Gaza cyber-struggle takes missile war to second battlefield

Supporters of Israel and those opposing Operation Pillar of Defense tussle on social media

Minister Yuli Edelstein (center) in the Social Media Operations Center (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Minister Yuli Edelstein (center) in the Social Media Operations Center (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Whether or not it succeeds in stopping Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel, Operation Pillar of Defense will be notable for the fierce use by both sides of social media, with Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere being pressed into service to win hearts and minds around the world.

As of Thursday morning, Israel seemed to be ahead: Of the top trending tweets on Twitter, the second-most popular tweet subject in the world was #HamasBumperStickers — a crowdsourced collection of tragicomic lines condemning the Gaza terror group. One example: “It takes 2,587 Nuts & Bolts to put a car together – and only one Hamas nut to have it scattered all over the road.” #HamasBumperStickers was beating out #PrayforGaza, the preferred hashtag for the anti-Israel crowd on Twitter.

Official Israel — the IDF, the Prime Minister’s Office, and other groups — has long used Twitter and Facebook to get their message out, and pro-Israel social media users did the same using their own accounts. A message sent out on Twitter, or a comment posted on an article that gets picked up by a popular news aggregator like Matt Drudge, could be seen by hundreds of thousands of people.

In order to make sure that Israel’s side is heard loud and clear, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein has been coordinating a vast online activist effort, recruiting social media users around the world to spread Israel’s message in time of need. The Operations Center has been sending out material — videos, photos, eyewitness reports — to about 25,000 people around the world on the center’s mailing list — and they have been moving those messages to the rest of the world on a plethora of social media platforms and in dozens of languages.

In fact, the IDF more or less used Twitter to declare war. Not long after top Hamas terrorist Ahmed Jabari was killed in an IDF missile attack Wednesday night, the army tweeted the event and uploaded a video showing the missile strike. Later, the IDF posted a message on Twitter saying that it recommended that “all Hamas activists, whatever their rank, to not show their faces in the coming days.”

To which Hamas responded in its own Twitter feed that its “holy hands will reach your leaders and soldiers no matter where they are. You yourselves have opened up the gates of hell.”

Since then, the cyber-battle has been taken up by supporters of both sides. Pro-Israel tweeters and bloggers are concentrating on the suffering of residents of the south, showing videos and photos of destroyed homes and shattered lives. For the other side, the theme has been general condemnation of Israel for attacking “innocent women and children” (as of Thursday morning, 11 Gazans had reportedly been killed).

In the past, Israel’s achievements in social media have been spotty, but this time, said Edelstein, Israel had a winning formula. “We are here in order to expose the unbearable reality of the residents in the south and the necessity for military action against Hamas and the [other] terrorist organizations,” he said. “I am certain that alongside us will stand significant force multipliers in the form of tens of thousands of activists in Jewish communities around the world.”

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