Image: YouTube Screenshot
Warning: Some of the videos and images below are extremely graphic.
While IDF planes drop bombs on Gaza and Hamas fires rockets from inside its borders, both groups are also tweeting, sharing, and promoting the war every step of the way.
The Gaza conflict has offered up its own brand of Twitter war between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas, who are squaring off in an online social media battle to match the on-the-ground campaign. And just as in the physical world, in the cyber version playing out in social media, the weaponry the Israelis deploy far outclasses Hamas capabilities.
The IDF has been disseminating a mixture of images, tweets, and YouTube videos designed to both justify their operations and perform the classic strategy of any military PSYOP—defining your enemy in no uncertain terms.
Their custom images have been crafted by graphic designers (in fact the whole operation has a very professional public relations feel to it), with sharp messages and catchy patterns. For example, one image portrays a key theme Israel has attempted to broadcast to the international community: its strategies and technologies are aimed at protecting civilians.
As the death toll mounts, this may be seeming like an increasingly lost cause. But back in 2012, Israel was criticized for causing civilian casualties during similar air offensives. It's clear in this iteration of the Gaza conflict, the IDF kept in mind the public relations fallout from killing innocents, and sought to emphasize its in-the-air model of protecting civilians this time around.
Copious Israeli videos and tweets are supporting that public image as conscientious agents of war, even highlighting their humanitarian operations. In other words, they're crafting the narrative of their bombing and military campaigns as nearly civilian-friendly, before it's crafted for them, oppositely. But the reality is, of course, civilians are still dying in Gaza.
Branding Hamas militants as terrorists also seems to be a point the Israelis are driving home for the outside world. Hamas militants are referred to almost exclusively as "terrorists" and their rocket campaign is thusly portrayed as violent rogue acts of terror, not a calculated or legitimate military operation.
Building from that perception of Hamas as pure terrorist aggressors, the IDF has released well-produced videos showing purported terrorists being attacked by Israeli forces. One of the productions has the feel of war cinema, fit with combat sequences, and blurred frames of the dead.
The videos don't end there. From top military commanders explaining offensives, to night vision scenes of air strikes. Not to mention, the performance of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system has been a hallmark of the IDF Twitter account, which tweets its successes.
The IDF also tweeted the below picture of a group of soldiers standing over what appears to be the corpse of the Hamas militant—a "terrorist"—from the above video.
For their part, Hamas is nearly as active online. Including live tweeting the bombing of Ben Gurion Airport:
The tweet describing the infamous rocket attacks by Hamas on Ben Gurion Airport.
While smaller in capability, their account has been peppered with references to the "Zionist" enemy, all the while promoting the bombing of targets all over Israel. The group is regularly and openly tweeting messages of rocket attacks on cities full of civilians. And has also taken to posting the pictures of captured Israeli soldiers and gruesome photos of injured and killed Palestinian children.
But it's notable that while such images inspired Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comment that Hamas was using the "telegenically dead" to produce sympathy in the international community, they are simply undoctored photographs. There are no graphic designers, touch-up artists, or gaffers helping to produce the image—it's simply a picture snapped in the wake of war.
Their propaganda videos are also much less sophisticated than Israeli productions, like this one, which celebrates the capture of Israeli soldiers.
But disparity between both social media prowess and the military might of each party are obvious, and neither battle is being waged on equal terms. As I observed after following a disappearing English Hamas account, and Yahoo News reports, Hamas accounts are regularly kicked off of Twitter (like the English al-Qassam Brigade account, recently shutdown), while the Israeli IDF account trucks on without any interference to speak of.
In the end, the actions of Israel and Hamas on social media are an extension of classic PSYOPs; attempts to justify and inspire support. Except nowadays, the battle is over online channels rather than TV or on posters. Both Israel and Hamas tend to portray the war in digital terms, too: easily digestible images and messages, perfect for quick clicks worth some shock and awe for readers.