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November 16, 2012

Game Change for Social Media, Media and Photography: Israel, Hamas Draw Us Literally into War

We can hardly begin to understand how much the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas (and the apparently greater range of the Palestinian’s missiles) has, overnight, changed the waging of war. Up until Wednesday (when Israel’s IDF used Twitter as another war front), I would have argued there was still a division between physical and propaganda war. As of this week, the visual data is no longer distant, it’s no longer delayed, and in its initial views, it is barely filtered, even if coming from the NYT or the BBC.

Without the temporal and editorial mitigation that has emotionally and intellectually abstracted visual news, welcome to a media space in which we are consuming hostility and processing raw data and raw propaganda almost as quickly as the war correspondent, the fighter pilot, the governments, the diplomats and the antagonists themselves. With the rapid evolution of Twitter and Instagram, and the now-essential nature of these services (as Steven Mayes explains in a new interview with Pete Brook at Wired, and I outline in my three-part “State of the News Photo” essay), the imagery has literally become experiential.

I can only label the tweets above (even if one comes from a BBC correspondent, the other unidentified as an IDF spokesperson) as a context-challenging amalgam of witnessing/reporting, grieving and fist-shaking.

(Top photo via Avital Leibovich, Israeli Defense Forces Spokesperson. Bottom photo via Paul Danahar, the BBC’s Middle East bureau chief, from al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, published in NYT.)

  • LanceThruster

    Pretty much what I get from the MSM is largely IOKIYAAZ (It’s OK if you are a Zionist). Isreal can practice collective punishment (a war crime), even though these international standards were setup primarily as a response to those who suffered such brutality during WWII.

    • Galganga

      So indiscriminately firing rockets into cities and suburbs doesn’t count as collective punishment?

  • Scarabus

    Michael, am I right in thinking the conventional wisdom is that news photos and film “brought the Vietnam (undeclared) War into our living rooms,” thereby contributing in a major way toward tilting American public opinion against the war?

    Following that, didn’t military/political leaders (lot of overlap) determine to control what the public saw via stunts like “embedding” reporters/photographers? And giving TV stations and documentary film makers propaganda footage disguised as “news”?

    Is this a new phase? What does it mean for our world?

    • lquick

      What Scarabus said. When I saw the photos, I thought of watching the evening news and Morley Safer, Dan Rather, etc., standing in the rice paddies/jungle doing their narrative of the day’s action in Viet Nam, while the wounded were carried to helicopters behind them. Immediate, and instant game changers. And most of us watched the evening news over dinner.

    • Michael Shaw

      The “we can hardly understand” is genuine. I need to think more about your question, same as I’m thinking about the implications of the onslaught itself. I guess what stands out is the word “determination” and how formulated and deliberate all those photos and films and propaganda strategies (and counter-strategies) were in the past.

    • Scarabus

      I wanted to say, but feared blathering on…

      The 1994 war was presented to the U.S. public — for years — as if it were a video game. Cockpit view. Targeting screen. Poof! 100% accuracy!! No mistakes. “Surgical accuracy.”

      [A foreshadowing of — pace Star Wars fans — "The Drone Wars."]

      I’ve thought and have been saying from the very beginning that I think the video game “frame” or “cognitive map” of war in the Middle East made it much, much easier for Americans to accept the invasion of Iraq. Independent of the administration’s campaign of lies.

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  • Minor Heretic

    One thing that stands out for me is the speed of the transaction. It creates the need for speed in response. Like the high speed algorithmic trading on Wall Street, the possibility of unforeseen consequences goes up.

    Images of war have always gotten to us through one filter or another. Someone makes a choice about what we should see and when. It used to be news organizations. Now everybody had gotten into the game. News organizations are competing moment to moment with activists, NGOs, governments, and random individuals – a thousand choices and agendas.

    So, more image promoters working at faster speeds. The ability of any one player to define the perception of an event has gone down. Part of that is dilution. Part is the lack of time to analyze the perceptual landscape and make a correct tactical decision. Another issue is that the cumulative effect of all the images has an effect that no one contributor can predict.

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  • bks3bks

    What’s all the fuss about? This is just how Netanyahu runs his re-election convention.


  • mike

    I don’t know what all the fuss is. They have been trying to kill each other for 3500 years.

    It will be over soon, and it’s going to end like WW2 did. Stay out of it. (my money is on the Israelis)

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  • jonst

    Just my opinion, with some polling evidence to back it up, but Americans seemed, with the exception of a minority of the citizens, just fine with going into Iraq. They/we needed no ‘accoutrements’ to make the decision more palatable. You seem to, anyway, imply, we needed some illusion of a sterilization process–the video game–to “make it much, much, easier for Americans..” As if Americans were victims, somehow duped into thinking the war would be less gruesome than the real thing. So to speak. . I saw just the opposite…I saw the majority of Americans say, ‘the more gruesome the better’…just don’t make me admit that in public.’ They might have added.

  • LanceThruster

    International law allows for armed aggression to repel invaders. Israel has never declared its borders, let alone the extent that their entire population is militarized (i.e. part of the IDF reserves except for the Orthodox who get an exemption) so the argument of home turf and non-combatants is murky at best. If Israel is so outraged by the rain of imprecise rockets, they should see to it that the Palestinians get more advanced weaponry in order that they can strike military targets exclusively.

    Problem solved.

    As it is, Israel is hiding behind its civilian population in order to unleash indiscriminate death and destruction on the Palestinians.

    IDF = The most morally bankrupt army in the world.

  • LanceThruster

    Recent polls show Americans support the Israelis by a margin of 4 to 1. It’s surprising that the gap is only that wide considering the one-sided narrative Americans are spoon fed.

    Don’t expect the MSM to provide balance any time soon. Some have removed their blinders despite the media gatekeepers.

    “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act”
    George Orwell

  • Galganga

    This conflict is not as black and white as you make it out to be. Israel’s borders were approved by the UN in 1947 and were expanded after Israel defeated several aggressing armies. The only people who refused to accept these borders were surrounding Arab nations and Palestinians.

    Any rational thinker with cohesive knowledge of the conflict wouldn’t be so quick to dole out sanctimonious judgements. Hamas, as is well documented, hides among the civilian population and uses public buildings as bases to launch rockets at Israel. Hamas is well aware that civilian causalities are a powerful political tools useful for asserting victimhood, and does nothing to minimize the risks to Palestinian civilians. The “Pallywood” phenomenon, in which Palestinians play act and feign injury in front of international cameras attests to the fact that there is widespread awareness of the political role Palestinian casualties play in this conflict.

    You need to keep in mind that moralistic platitudes are not facts and that Israelis and Jews are not evil people bent on the extermination of innocent Palestinian children. The IDF distributes pamphlets warning civillians in Gaza to keep away from Hamas militants and make a concerted effort to minimize civilian casualties. The IDF has nothing to gain from killing innocent people and has been under a microscope from the international community in a way not even rivaled by American military excursions.

  • LanceThruster

    I would apply the “180 Rule” to your response. That is, you ascribe to others those characteristics you defend with regard to Israel. I would love for the discussion to be expanded, but if it deals with facts and history rather than the prevailing narrative, Israel would not consider that in their interest. The fact that you acknowledge the expansion of the land grab by means illegal with regard to international law without addressing the UN’s right to give away another’s land without consent of the population of the region speaks of your selective justifications.
    Even the UN’s partition was predicated on certain actions by Israel that were not honored.
    I’ve said if it is Israel’s intention to operate with fairness and integrity, this could be resolved in short order. Let one side “cut the cake,” and the other side “choose the slice.”
    What could be more fair than that? Israel sees no need to make such concessions as they currently wield the most power and leverage. They use strategic delays to their advantage. They do not want peace, but excuses to engage in violence against their neighbors.
    What coud be more hypocritical than pointing a finger at Iran’s nuclear program (signers of the NNPT and under the watch of the IAEA and legally within their rigths to do so), as Israel actually has nuclear weapons but no accountability? Dimona is the worst keep secret on the planet yet they still feel the need to punish Mordechai Vanunu for daring to tell the truth.
    Your own sanctimonious judgements do not speak well for your claimed “rationality.”

  • Galganga

    I think you need you need to brush up on your history if you think the founding of Israel was a “land grab”, and review what it is to make a sanctimonious judgement. Jews had as much a historical right to the land as Arabs, who have been offered a separate Palestinian state multiple times and refused. You can’t logically make a case that “Israel doesn’t want peace”, given that several Arab nations have unsuccessfully tried to invade and destroy Israel, and Palestinians themselves chose to elect vengeful terrorists unwilling to concede even Israel’s right to exist

    I wholly agree that Israel needs to make concessions and that recognizing a Palestinian state is in the regions best interests, but there are a lot of different sticking points on both sides, and both sides are inflexible.

    I would recommend typing “CFR Crisis Guide” into your search bar to get a more balanced perspective on the history of the conflict. I doubt you’ll find this conflict as one-sided once you learn more about it.

  • LanceThruster

    I used to consider Israel the “white hats” and the Arabs/Muslims/Palestinians the “black hats” much like everyone else in America. After 9/11, I wanted to learn more about the conflict in the region because I imagined it would be the justification for our security actions for some time to come.

    It did not take much scratching the surface to determine that Israel maintains the narrative by heavy-handed gatekeeping rather than arguing the facts on their merits.

    Thank you for your invitation to adjust my understanding to fit your perceptions (whether genuine or part of your agenda), but you do not have to catch someone endlessly promoting a series of falsehoods too many times to see that they’ve destroyed their own credibility.

    Part of what helped me reexamine my own views were thoughtful Jewish voices (friends and writers), and seeing firsthand the amount of bullying done to maintain the prevailing narrative, from the merely annoying to the dangerously extreme.

    I’ve compared arguments head to head and those excusing Zionist abuses do so mostly with hand waving rather than putting forth a coherent case.

    Like i said, I hope it gets discussed in much greater detail, but Israel has a vested interest in keeping a lid of meaningful discussion.

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