Perhaps the most surprising thing about Israel's surprise attack on Hamas this week is that many people learned about it by reading about it on the Israeli Defense Forces own surreal Twitter feed. The account, @IDFSpokesperson, is also paired with a blog to create a chronicle of this ongoing mini-war that is one part press releases, one part propaganda, and one part taunting the enemy. When it isn't dryly announcing statistics about its newest military actions, IDF is defending its attacks with reminders of the terror facing Israeli citizens or dossiers on the people they've just killed. Occasionally, they take a moment to threaten the enemy with certain death from above.
They even posted a YouTube video of the assassination of Ahmed Jabari. The grainy surveillance footage was quickly taken down by YouTube, but like most controversial clips, it has found its way back on to the site.
On one level, it makes sense for the military to use the internet to provide useful information and possibly even explain its mission to the public. (They have Spanish and French-language versions of the account too, for added global reach.) But the odd tone of the writing, has taken some people aback and left the IDF open to mockery and charges of insensitivity regarding a very sensitive subject.
Take this tweet, sent on Thursday morning:
Good morning to our friends in #America. While you were sleeping, 3 Israelis were killed when a rocket hit their house.— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 15, 2012
Or this one, which calls to mind some of the most over-the-top propaganda poster of the Second World War.
This is how Hamas sees Israel. twitter.com/IDFSpokesperso…— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 15, 2012
There's even a "social gaming" feature on the IDF blog that allows followers to earn points and badges for sharing and commenting on the news on other platforms, which takes the whole idea of war games to an absurd level.
Obviously, no one looks to an IDF spokesperson for dispassionate, unbiased news. But in an era when every dispute from a political campaign to a broken dishwasher gets aired on Twitter, the idea of hashtagging a bombing campaign and posting video clips of your assassinations, strikes even the most cynical internet user as a world too far. (And possibly against its rules.)
Yet, even while the bombs continue to fall, elsewhere people are arguing over who is winning the information war. The @AlqassaamBrigade has the better hashtag, but @IDFSpokesperson has gained more followers. Even Anonymous is getting in on the act, though it can't seems to decide which side to go after. The @IDFSpokesperson didn't start this online war, of course, but just like the fight for the Middle East, they are determined to win it at all costs.