[Reposting my Jewish Week article from this week…which features comments from none other than the noteworthy “ck.” ]
Shaping public opinion on the Gaza blockade, 140 characters at a time.
Just moments after the Israeli navy boarded the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship in the Mediterranean en route to Gaza, an explosive battle of another kind was playing out on the Facebook and Twitter fronts.
The phrases â€œGaza flotillaâ€ and â€œ#freedomflotillaâ€ were among the three highest â€œtrending topicsâ€ on Twitter on Monday morning, Eastern Standard Time. By Tuesday morning, â€œflotillaâ€ still remained among the top 10.
â€œYour blood reached the shores of Gaza before your aid,â€ tweeted user Sarabughazal, at 2:23 a.m. on Monday, a message that was re-tweeted by other users throughout the day. It was a gory note from a pro-Palestinian activist, and indicative of the early traffic on the social networking site.
Another popular tweet was directed at the IDF Spokespersonâ€™s Unit, from early on, and also reappeared re-tweeted by many users: â€œ@IDFSpokesperson nobody believes you. You know?â€
Experts observed that early in the day, the tweets and Facebook streams were overwhelmingly one-sided, tilted toward the so-called peace activists attempting to penetrate Israelâ€™s naval blockade. Only 12 hours into the social media uproar did the Israel Defense Forces Spokespersonâ€™s Unit release its own evidence from the events, perhaps testing the limits of how social media can shape perceptions of world crises.
When terrorists struck Mumbai, YouTube eyewitnesses were there. When students protested elections in Iran, rebellious youth tweeted a live play-by-play from the streets. In both cases, the social networking sites seemed to be driving the story, out in front of traditional media.
But as cloudy versions of the â€œflotillaâ€ story spread virally through Twitter and Facebook pages Monday morning, social media experts felt that site users were getting a less-than-accurate picture of what was going on, with little response at the time from the Israeli government.
â€œItâ€™s not a discussion, itâ€™s an outrageous attack on Israel, on what Israel did. Only a very small percentage of people are using facts,â€ said David Saranga, former media consul at the Consulate General for Israel in New York, who is now on a leave of absence from the Foreign Ministry to teach social media and diplomacy at IDC Herzliya. â€œAll the rest are just condemning the fact that Israel attacked these â€˜peace activistsâ€™ and the fact that Israel did it in the international water, not close to Gaza. Theyâ€™re not basing what theyâ€™re saying on facts, but still itâ€™s something that really shapes the discussion and the overall image of the events.â€
Israelis, in his opinion, also tend to have a much stronger presence on Facebook than they do on Twitter â€” creating an automatic lag in information flow over that outlet. For Saranga, however, the blame for this alleged spread of misinformation didnâ€™t lie solely with the Twitter users, but also within Israel.
â€œRight now, there is still no footage coming from Israel,â€ he said on midday Monday, before the IDF footage was released. â€œAlmost 12 hours since the event started, there was no footage and pictures coming from the boats. And therefore itâ€™s very hard to contradict because people want to see something.â€
David Abitbol, Israeli Web connoisseur and founder of the blog Jewlicious.com (which this reporter contributes to), agreed, adding, â€œWe didnâ€™t get a rebuttal from Israel for hours. It was very, very late. They needed to speed things up a bit there. The diplomatic fallout was terrible. Ambassadors recalled, Greece suspending military exercises, demonstrations. All that happened before Israel released its videos. What took so long? Thatâ€™s why the Twitter traffic was so one-sided.â€
Israel, the observers agreed, was far behind its enemiesâ€™ voices in the online PR battle. And in Abitbolâ€™s opinion, this time, traditional media drove the story. Instead of seeing tweets that relayed news and facts, Abitbol felt that the Twitter presence was largely â€œjust one sideâ€™s militants yelling at the other sideâ€™s militants.â€ Â Continue reading…