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Wartime Talk on Twitter

It is stunning to see how social media is being used to share information, truths, propaganda and rhetoric.

The tensions in the middle east that I remember being shared by my parents and their friend & relatives in hushed, worried tones as a kid are now being broadcast in most vulgar terms to the masses.

@IDFspokesperson on Twitter keeps the news media and populations far and wide up to date on the threat of war in Israel, updating millions frequently with news of rockets and attacks.

In case you missed it – today terrorists in #Gaza fired rockets aimed at 2 major cities, Tel-Aviv and the Israeli capital, Jerusalem

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 16, 2012

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In just 15 minutes, this one tweet was sent out to 145,425 followers (up from nearly 60,000 on Sunday), retweeted 168 times and favourited by 13 people. Almost all of the reply tweets into the conversation are digital snipes about each others’ value as a human, education or intelligence. (I use the favourite button as a digital bookmark)

A quick Hashtracking.com report shows the #Gaza hashtag is wide-reaching: 1,439 tweets generated 3,852,860 impressions, reaching an audience of 3,135,220 followers within the past 24 hours (7:13 pm ET November 16, 2012)

Just one week ago, the @IDFspokesperson twitter account was somewhat normal, tweeting only a few times a day about routine IDF activities, including normal community-building tweets like thanking followers for their retweets, wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom. 2 weeks ago they tweeted about the anniversary death of Yitzhak Rabin 17 years ago.

17 yrs ago, Former Israeli PM & Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. Join us in saluting his impact on the IDF. twitter.com/IDFSpokesperso…

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 4, 2012

Since beginning the #PillarofDefence hashtag though, tweets are numerous times per day, often sharing videos discounting Hamas reports as lies, using other social media (YouTube videos, photos of Iron Dome in action), and sharing numbers of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza in the recent hours//days and over a period of years.

Many of the tweets also describe life for Israelis as scary, frequently running for cover with sirens blaring and giving them 30 seconds warning time.

As part of effort to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza, IDF dropped 1000s of leaflets in Arabic with this message. twitter.com/IDFSpokesperso…

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 15, 2012

Overall, @IDFspokesperson account is well-attended and it seems to be recognized (by the IDF) as an important platform for winning over the minds of people worldwide. The background, header image, avatar and photos shared all seem to be well thought out and invested in professional social media and design help.

On the other side of the Wartime Tweets is Hamas and Palestine Twitter accounts like @AlqassamBrigade which are much more rudimentary. Their tweets often begin with a timestamp, likely trying to add credibility to document the time of an attack activity, instead of the tweet itself.

The account is much smaller, with only 20,000 followers and the background of a screen shot that looks more like a video game than a professional or serious account. They also share hundreds of tweets in recent days, including ones sharing local cartoonists “laughing” at Israel and calling other IDF Twitter accounts (such as @idfelite), losers while sharing video presumably of advanced warfare planes and rocket launchers.

Earlier this Fall in September, I was a little bit surprised to see a few unfriendly pokes in Twitter between US and Egypt – Yahoo News Online

“The Muslim Brotherhood’s English-language Twitter account (@Ikhwanweb) retweeted a message from deputy head Khairat el-Shater saying he was “relieved none of @USEmbassyCairo staff was harmed” and hoped U.S.-Egypt relations “will sustain [the] turbulence of Tuesday’s events.”

However, according to ahramonline.com, the Brotherhood’s Arabic-language Twitter account and its website were praising the protests staged against a U.S.-made film that some Muslims deem insulting to the Prophet Muhammad. The Brotherhood’s messages also called for a million-man march on Friday.

That prompted an interesting response from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo: “Thanks. By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too.”

Later the Brotherhood responded, “we understand you’re under a lot of stress, but it will be more helpful if you point out exactly the Arabic feed of concern.”

What happened to the innocent days of Twitter used to chat, share #EARTHQUAKE tweets and news of heroes and amazingness?

One example I always come back to from my early days on Twitter, news I happened to catch unfolding live, the “Miracle on the Hudson” tweetstream. Shared by @jkrums in his historic tweet that began the braided journalism trend that is now commonplace, “There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.”

 

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