Social Media as a Tool of War: Is the New Normal Here to Stay?

Nov 16, 2012
10:54 am

As reports come in from all over the world surrounding the events in Gaza, social media has now become the digital front of warfare. Now, anyone with Internet access can sift through real-time updates and find graphic images that would never make the front pages of media outlets, announcements of impending attacks, and engagement that brings out the raw emotions surrounding violent conflict.

The result is that there is now real-time war updates on Twitter and other social outlets.

Have we crossed a new line as a society where war becomes searchable? When people are asked to RT or be told to SHARE an updated to spread the "truth," have we crossed the line of social media manipulation? As one writer said this week, "If it wasn’t clear before, Twitter, blogs, and YouTube can be used as weapons." Think about what that sentence means. The online world is becoming more and more a part of a plan by powerful parties on both sides of the conflict to convince people.

For example, one Facebook post from the IDF has gotten over 20,000 shares in three hours, and it is still growing. Is Facebook the place to wage a war? Should we as humans be "liking" that content and sharing it like it were just another meme? In the meantime, information from the Gaza side can be easily found as well. For example, just about 45 minutes ago, this was tweeted: missiles heading towards Jerusalem.

Now we can literally follow a war from a laptop screen. What does it say about us as humans?

As the head of the IDF's "interactive media" branch told the Associated Press:  "I’m sort of addicted to Twitter, you can say. It’s a great tool to release information without the touch of editors’ hands. Militaries are usually closed operations, but we’re doing the opposite.”

Is this an addiction we are ready for? When armies start asking us to "check them out" on Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and see slickly produced and high-quality pictures that are perfectly packaged for instant share, is this the price we pay as a society for a digital world that has become flatter and unfiltered?

In the end, as the war literally wages on the ground and now online, perhaps it will force us to be more critical about information and where it comes from. The "touch of editors' hands" might matter now, more than ever.

And maybe, this is just a reflection of who we are as a world in 2012. Social media is the platform, and humans will use that platform however they want to. Unless the Facebooks and Twitters of the world start putting severe limits on expression (and that is already starting to happen), this will continue to be the new normal.

Yet, there is still an uneasiness when we are asked to "like" violence and conflict. It just doesn't feel right.

So what do YOU think about this?