The world remembers vividly Franklin Delano Roosevelt standing before the United States Congress in the wake of the surprise attack by the Japanese against Pearl Harbour. FDR, physically weak but mentally and spiritually a giant, spoke the immortal words “I ask that the Congress declare that…a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire”. This sentence, spoken powerfully and purposefully to a thundering of applause, signalled the official entrance of America into the Second World War. I awoke this morning to discover that a war had been declared once again. However it was not announced before a standing parliament but to a group of followers. Twitter followers that is. Today the Israel Defence Forces announced that they were going to war via Twitter.
After suffering more than several hundred rockets on its civilians over the past several months the IDF launched ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’ in an attempt to target the military wing of the Hamas terror group and to stem the flow of illegal weaponry into the Gaza Strip. It all began with this simple tweet:
From then on there were a constant stream of updates. Every few minutes the IDF updated their feed, talking about successful strikes against military targets, informing who they had just eliminated and even posting a YouTube clip to show how a successful attack looked and to show how weaponry was being smuggled into civilian areas.
The IDF has also been constantly updating its live-blog of the events in Gaza. All of this points to a proactive approach to advocacy rather than a reactive one. The State of Israel has often complained, sometimes legitimately, that it receives a significant amount of bias from media organisations. By tweeting out press releases and claims of success it avoids going through what it considers to be an unfair avenue in which the context of attacks is often lost within reporting. Few international media outlets reported on the numerous rockets that have hit civilian areas over the last several weeks but all of them are talking about the Israeli response. Israel is attempting to shape the story and the international reaction through the use of social media.
Yet this is not the most amazing part of all of this. Hamas actually responded….both with rockets and with words. Hamas intensified its barrage of rockets against Israeli civilians and also responded to the IDF via Twitter.
What we see now is that warfare has truly changed. With civilians having instant-upload cell phones and social network access at the touch of a button armies have to be incredibly proactive. If a missile hits a car, house or (god-forbid) a school then the images of a burning civilian building will dominate both social and traditional media. These images come without any of the context that shapes stories. No one will know if the building was being used as a sniper nest, no one will know if the school was being used to house missiles and rockets that were being fired against civilians. The IDF is attempting to ensure that it is getting its story out there before anyone else does. The Israelis may be the first army to declare war via Twitter but they won’t be the last.