By November 15, 2012 2 Comments Read More →

Social media 2012 act three: war porn

There have been two major milestones in coverage of military conflicts in recent memory. Television gave us a front row seat to the front lines of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Social media gave us a front row seat to the war rooms in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas.

It truly began yesterday when the official Twitter account of the Israeli Defense Forces (@idfspokesperson) announced the beginning of  a campaign against Hamas and “terror targets” in the Gaza Strip. It’s clear the IDF integrated digital into their conflict planning from the very early stages. They’re using a suite of social media channels including Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, a blog and a newly launched Tumblr page. It’s a well put-together digital communication/propaganda ecosystem which incorporates concise updates, photographs, infographics, videos and written accounts. The IDF also offers updates in a variety of languages including French and Spanish.

Hamas’ digital ecosystem, including their @AlqassamBrigade Twitter account, is not nearly as well developed. It appears to be limited to Twitter and a website which I’ve had difficulty accessing. That doesn’t necessarily diminish the impact of their efforts particularly among Hamas’ supporters.

What’s particularly fascinating is how this approach has short circuited the media and framed the story. News organizations are reporting as much on the use of digital tactics as they are on the military movements of the conflict. I suspect most of the information sourced by the media is coming directly from the digital updates. While I’m certain there have been press conferences by both sides, I’d argue the updates/messages and sparring over social media is serving as a virtual press conference.

One notable symptom of the digitization of the conflict is the inflammatory comments being traded by the public. It’s a no holds barred and polarized exchange. Between the graphic images and high-tech displays, it’s not surprising some tweeters are expressing disgust, calling for an end to the conflict and the sharing of “war porn.”

I wonder what role sentiment will play in determining the direction and outcome of the conflict. Without doing a careful analysis, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that vitriol is winning. But, to give you a sense of the level of activity, I sampled big data on the conflict using Marketwire/Sysomos MAP.

This first graph looks at the number of relevant mentions across a variety of online media channels. The search considers key terms associated with the conflict.

Twitter traffic has increased 11-fold in the last two days from the previous 28, jumping from an average of 15,298 tweets/day to 176,302 (that’s 7,346 tweets/hour over the last two days). Despite being at the heart of the conflict, Israeli-originated tweets make up only 4.5% of relevant tweets from the last two days — good enough for third place among the chatter. The leading countries are the U.S. (42%) and U.K. (11%). Canada ranks fourth (3.5%).

Blogs have also seen an increase from an average 633 posts/day over the last 30 days to 4,145 in the last two.

I’ll be a guest of CTV News Channel’s Express tomorrow morning to talk about this new phenomenon in conflict communication.

Analysis performed using Marketwire/Sysomos MAP.

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About the Author:

Mark Blevis is a digital public affairs strategist and President of FullDuplex.ca, an integrated digital communications, public affairs and research company. His work focuses on the role of digital tools and culture on issues and reputation management. He also leads research into how Canadian opinions are shaped through online content and interactions.