Beyond the morbid fascination with the convoluted David Petraeus affair and the even more troubling obsession with shopping occupying the minds of Americans over the past few days, there have been world events of much graver importance.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, the veritable “stuff” went down in the Middle East between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Despite the loss of life, the missile strikes and the political mud-slinging in what is a very volatile conflict, it has gotten anemic levels of media coverage. This is not particularly surprising; America’s televised news is not necessarily the best when it comes to international affairs (and even less so when one thinks about the Middle East).
What is a bit more surprising is how Twitter documented a side of the conflict—a slap-fight that seems inconceivable before the advent of social media.
Even for us without military clout, that everything we say online is public; it is an important fact for us Internet-travellers to remember. For most of us, however, the worst that can happen is our mother sees us speaking in an impolite way or a boss of ours sees something that might be comparable to a fireable offense. These things are most certainly a “big deal” in an everyday life situation, but generally we’re not going to have the fate and perception of entire countries resting on our tweets.
Yet this common-sense factoid seemed to be lost on the official Twitter accounts of both the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and Hamas’s military wing, Alqassam Brigades.
A few days into the conflict @IDFSpokesperson (the respectable account for the IDF) was already posting propaganda images, including images of missiles being launched to various international landmarks with the caption “What would you do?” Propaganda might not be shocking when coming through the official account of a country’s military wing, but considering @IDFSpokesperson is an English-language Twitter feed and the messages were aimed at international supporters and detractors, the postings seemed an uncomfortably public grab for sympathy.
Ironic, as the New York Times reported that Israeli officials vowed to do a better job to present the country following its involvement in the 2008 Gaza conflict.
Of course, things did not get better from here. Following the killing of a Hamas military leader, Ahmed Al-Jabari, @IDFSpokesperson tweeted, “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”
Whether this was a bold-faced threat, a gloat or something far more ill-advised (read: stupider) from this official twitter account of the IDF, Alqassam Brigade’s own official English-language account could not abide such a statement. They tweeted back with the equally troubling and cryptic, “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves).”
And though the barking between the two Internet bulldogs ended following that exchange, it’s a troubling thought that a country’s military squabbling can now continue between faceless parties in a very public forum. Not only does it reflect poorly on both sides, but it suggests that conflicts have entered this frivolous realm where the amount of people retweeting a post has supplanted genuine political nuance.
Imagine, for example, if an American military wing posted on its Twitter account “RT if you love drone strikes.” Sadly, such a thing does not seem so hyperbolic in today’s world.
Yet, it’s still unsurprising that such a bizarre exchange seems to get much more attention than the conflict proper. Me saying this while simultaneously going into detail on this war of tweets might be a tad hypocritical, but this column isn’t titled “#this” for nothing; it’s my self-appointed job to point out just how widespread our social media use has become.
While I don’t think that use should have realistic boundaries, there are obviously some things even my Internet-addled mind did not foresee. In that vein, an amusing angle to this unfortunate exchange was brought up by an Atlantic article. In it, writer Brian Fung suggests @IDFSpokesperson and @AlqassamBrigades might be in violation of Twitter’s terms of service under its “Violence and Threats” clause.
Verbatim, the clause states, “You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.”
If this applies to trolls bashing Justin Bieber, I hope it would also apply to accounts representing genuine military powers. Hopefully, if neither of these accounts can play nice, Twitter can step in and do what needs to be done to prevent this from becoming a troubling trend.