Without going into the backdrop of Operation Pillar of Defense "who started what" wormhole for now, and as a preambule to a much more in-depth study of the Israeli's Defense Force online narrative of their latest exploit (which is still evolving) I am going to join my voice to the growing choir of critics of the Israeli Defense Force's use of social media.
Michael Koplow (in Foreign Policy) has quite nicely summed up the origin and consequence of such a communication strategy, so for the moment I won't add to his very insightful analysis. Jon Mitchell of Read Write Web cries out against the IDF's moral compass as well as highlighting the many different channels of online communication the IDF Public Policy department has pegged down, including gamification of their war blog. Whilst seemingly novel at first sight - wow, a declaration of war on twitter - let's not forget that Nato had dabbled in this type of communication during Unified Protector. The end of that operation was, after all, announced in a tweet.
Unified Protector benefited from limited social media public policy support, but the purpose of both military and communication strategies were fairly clear. In the case of the latter, it was to inform. Pressers were livestreamed and the Q&A broadcast to a global audience. There was a human element to this interaction which made the exchange seem both personal, precise and scalable. Perhaps it was the fact that Nato actually had an international mandate to intervene which made the task of communicating on the conflict a little easier - a legal framework. But however you twist it, social media is not like any other channel - it's about people, all linked together, conscious of their combined power and all hungry to get the raw data.
One of the stated purposes of the #PillarOfDefense campaign is to garner support. For this you need to speak the target audience's language - which in the case of Gaza/Israel is based on "authenticity". So why gloss over something as horrendous as warfare? What is there to gain in making it look pretty? Virality, perhaps, but only from an already won-over audience. Credibility, certainly not. I think most people can grasp how nasty things can get on the terrain. Infographs of situation reports, visually appealing posters of human targets and interactive charts seem to me not only distasteful, but overkill. Great packaging, no product: Something consumers would revolt against in a cyber-second denouncing having been "had". Actually, that is the feeling I personally have with the IDF Spokesperson content, a strong sense of being treated as a simpleton (one of the videos actually reminds me of the duck and cover clip from the 1950's - it's probably the voice)... Unless they actually have nothing to sell.
For the moment, and to the many many many "social media expert" eyes out there, the IDF new media desk is starting to look like a bunch of yahoos who have been given free range to tinker with their favorite toys.
So whilst a new media budget of $15 Million might buy you a Klout score of 90, it will not boost sentiment in the international theatre of opinion unless you start getting real.