Israel and Hamas: War in the Twitter Sphere

By Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath

The implications of the November 2012 conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip may seem uncertain at this point, but what is clear is that both parties have added a new weapon to their arsenal: social media.

Israel and Hamas waged war both on the ground and in cyberspace, using social media to gain support for their operation during the eight-day struggle. Hours after Israeli rockets targeted and killed Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari, head of Hamas’ military wing, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) uploaded a video of the attack on its YouTube page and then tweeted, (with the Twitter handle of @idfspokesperon) a poster of Jabari that read: “ELIMINATED.”  The Palestinian faction of Hamas (Twitter handle: @AlqassamBrigade) immediately responded by tweeting, “@idfspokesperson Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves).”

In the days that followed, both the IDF and Hamas posted their military operations, and stories and videos surrounding the violence on their Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages. The tweets and posts reached an audience far outside the region.  @idfspokesperson has more than 200,000 followers and @AlqassamBrigade has more than 40,000.  It was evident that the Israel and Hamas used their social media weapons to their advantage in order to gain support, both within the region and abroad.

And it seemed to have worked.  Hashtags such as #gaza, #israel, #gazaunderattack, #israelunderfire, #hamas, and #idf were trending in the Twitter sphere during the eight days of rocket fire from both sides.  The world was commenting, tweeting and viewing information about the conflict almost in real-time.

But the tweets and postings went far beyond simply reporting what was happening; social media were also used as means of sending a warning to the opposition.  @idfspokesperon tweeted to reporters in the Gaza Strip, “Warning to reporters in Gaza: Stay away from Hamas operatives & facilities.  Hamas, a terrorist group, will use you as human shields.”   This tweet came after rockets had hit media buildings within Gaza City.

Media analysts say that this “Twitter war” has brought about an interesting test for social media sites, like Twitter and YouTube, which have terms and policies against direct threats on their sites. According to an Associated Press article published in The Washington Post,Google, the owner of YouTube, took down the assassination video of Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari, stating it violated the site’s terms of service.  However, this decision was reversed a day later and the video was restored.  Some also claim that the IDF’s twitter was blocked for a time during the conflict. The IDF denies this and Twitter has not commented.  In light of these instances, many are questioning just how far social media sites will let the battle go.

A ceasefire is now in effect.  Rockets have stopped and there is seemingly peace on the ground, but the war in cyberspace continues as Israel and Hamas continue to sharpen their social media weapons.

Photographs of Twitter pages by Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath

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