TEL AVIV: Within hours of Israel’s deadly raid on a Turkish ship filled with humanitarian supplies and carrying hundreds of international activists, the digital war began.
Various sides tried to push their version of the incident on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and online forums.
The Israeli army also made extensive use of their YouTube channel, posting selected clips of the incident taken by naval commandos and security cameras confiscated from the boat, showing activists beating Israeli soldiers with clubs and attempting to throw one overboard as they descended onto the ship from navy helicopters. Supporters of Israel ‘s assault set up multiple Facebook groups, with one calling for an Israeli boycott of Turkey .
Supporters of the activists uploaded videos taken on camera phones and posted tens of thousands of messages and links on Twitter, the short-messaging service, promoting the hashtag #flotilla to one of the social network’s highest trending topics. When the #flotilla hashtag dropped off the list of globally trending topics, activists launched another campaign accusing Twitter of censorship.
Turkish hackers even joined the battlefield, taking down Israeli websites.
But arguably the most effective single piece of social media surrounding the flotilla incident has been a creative, amateur video produced by an Israeli journalist satirizing the activists.
“We Con The World,” a YouTube music video of the "Flotilla Choir" singing a “Turkish Aid to Gaza Song, with Captain Stabbing and Friends,” has received almost 1.5 million viewers. Produced by Caroline Glick, managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, to the tune of “We are the world,” the video uses biting sarcasm to articulate the widely held Israeli belief that the flotilla activists had manipulated the world.
We must go on pretending day-by-day
That in Gaza , there’s crisis, hunger and plague…
There’s no people dying,
so the best that we can do
Is create the greatest bluff of all…
We’ll make the world
We’ll make them all believe that the Hamas
Is Momma Theresa
We are peaceful travelers
With guns and our own knives
The truth will never find its way to your TV
"Its political message aside, this video is one of the best examples of a how you do political social media marketing," Alex Gekker of Israel’s Asper Institute for New Media Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center told The Media Line. "It differs from the other videos released because it is not footage of the event and doesn’t come across as made by the government (although we can’t be sure). It’s highly entertaining, approachable and funny. All this makes it stand out and become viral."
Harel Shattenstein, an Israeli soldier who maintains the technology blog TalkingMobile.com, argued that the videos come out of an Israeli online culture based on average citizens’ political opinions.
"Most Israelis sit at work writing talkbacks and Israel is among the world’s top 5 or 10 talkback countries online," he told The Media Line. "Israelis like to write their ideas and their stance and to fight back against other ideas."
"As for the flotilla, most Israelis supported the IDF [Israeli army] and the government, but the Israeli media doesn’t feel the need to show the world that we are right or we are wrong – they let the Israelis judge for themselves," Shattenstein said. "Social media, however, creates a deeper discussion within the Israeli population – whether the action was good, whether the blockade is good in the first place, etc."
But while Israelis lead relatively active online political lives, Gekker said the Israeli government has only recently woken up to the power of social media in image management.
"Overall, there is a greater understanding of social networks and how they work among Israeli government institutions and organizations that deal in Israel ‘s image," he said. "People don’t remember but just a year ago you could not get video materials from the IDF spokesperson unless you were willing to physically come to their offices."
"There is a higher degree of attention towards what’s going on in social networks," he continued. "The problem is that the Israeli government and the bodies that deal with Israel’s image still try to control the message, rather than what they should be doing in social media environments, which is like this video to ride on top of the public sentiment among those already in favor of your position."
Blogger Renee Ghert-Zand was less bemused by Caroline Glick’s production.
"Given how fast things move today, it’s evident that she and her fellow satirists felt there was no time to lose in getting their [singing] voices on these critical events," she wrote. "This would be funny, if it weren’t so infuriating and sad.”
But Dr. Jacob Goldenberg, an expert on social media marketing at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s School of Business Administration , argued that speed is the primary concern when measuring the effectiveness of political social media campaigning.
"There aren’t any measures of effectiveness except viewing, and very roughly we can say that that number of viewers is a good proxy for influence," he told The Media Line. "But it’s only a proxy and we still don’t know exactly how it influences people’s views. In this case some of the YouTube clips that the Israeli army posted have been watched by millions, more than the activists’ clips, but the problem is that they were watched later."
"It’s much more important what people see first," Dr. Goldenberg stressed. "Israelis and Palestinians already have their own views, but among those who do not have a strong opinion, there is a primacy effect because people tend to form their view based on the first piece of media, especially visual media, that they see."
"So in the world of YouTube and iPhones and satellite phones, there is no place for proper editing and quality," he continued. "Speed is the only thing that matters in the world of YouTube and Facebook and in this case the Israeli army was too late. It took them more than 7 hours and at first the video clips were only in traditional media and later in social media."
Another pro-Israeli clip rides on the "love boat" initially uttered by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: “This wasn’t a love boat, this was a hate boat. These weren’t pacifists, these were violent supporters of terrorism.”
The video uses the theme song to the 1970s American sitcom “The Love Boat” to satirize the activists.
Pro-Israel activists have also been distributing a cartoon clip using Jewish historical persecution in an argument supportive of Zionism and the importance of a Jewish state.
While the Gaza humanitarian activists’ footage of the Israeli raid has been all over the Internet, creative amateur video clips in favor of the activists have been less prominent. Dan Bull, a UK musician, produced a protest anthem about the flotilla incident but the clip has to date received just a few thousands hits. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqyfBQ-Yxdc
Though sticks and stones may break your bones
they don’t provoke a massacre with no remorse
But never mind that, don’t give it another thought
’cause providing aid’s clearly an act of war.