It Doesn't Matter Who Wins The Battle, It's Who Wins The Social Media War

We live in a world of perpetual stimulation. It's rare to walk through any room these days in which someone is not on a mobile phone, or a laptop or an iPad. Consequently, we are constantly inundated with information, some of which can be difficult to process.

In this environment, media outlets are under continuous pressure to not only stay up to speed with current events, but also to capture the public's attention. It's driven by profit, and in order to be successful it must sustain viewership.

The age of new media has made this even more difficult. Most people do not read print news anymore. More Americans get their news online than from any other platform.

The age of the newspaper is over, and fewer people are watching the evening news. Millennials overwhelmingly get their news from the Internet, and particularly via social media:

"... While millennials may have lost the ability to blindly count on those institutions that earlier generations may have relied on as constants — the government, banks, big Pharma, conventional media... what they do rely on in increasing numbers is social media. And each other."

Perhaps one of the most difficult subjects for any outlet to report on is war. War is messy, tragic and complex. In war, every side will attempt to use the media to promote their own perspective.

Consequently, in the context of war, accurate, timely and unbiased reporting is often sparse.

This is particularly evident when we look at the coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the US media.

On this matter, Vox makes an important point,

'The media' is an unhelpfully broad term; TV networks like CNN cover the conflict very differently than do national newspapers like the New York Times... So it is next to impossible to make a characterization about 'the media' that accurately describes all of it.

This is crucial to understand. "The media" is a dynamic entity, with multiple formats and styles, all of which greatly impact the presentation of various events and issues. As the Paul Mason notes in a very pertinent article for Huffington Post, social media platforms have completely changed the game as well:

Specifically social media has the power to do three things: first, to show people reality - or a version of it - independent of what TV networks show. Second, and I think just as important, journalists on the ground are using social media to report, necessarily short-circuiting the normal editorial processes that used to filter what they said. Third, to get into your real life consciousness much more powerfully than the old media.

With that said, one can still get at least a general perception of the way the mainstream media approach a specific issue in most cases. This is particularly true for Israel-Palestine, an exceptionally polarizing issue.

It is readily apparent that the mainstream US media, much like the US government, is extremely biased in favor of Israel.

Likewise, as Vox notes, "...Americans who turn on their TV are not likely to hear about the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the suffering it causes Palestinians there... And it doesn't help that American electoral politics sharply favor Israel, particularly on the right."

However, with the changing dynamic in the way in which Americans, particularly Millennials, receive their news, fewer people are likely to buy into this coverage.

Traditional reporting has to go through an editing process. It is sanitized, or censored, to coincide with the agenda of whichever company is publishing it. Tweets do not go through the same process.

This is both positive and negative. One the one side, it means that people are getting the news more expeditiously, and that more individuals have a voice.

On the other, it means that news might not be as accurate, as facts may not have been cross-checked, and it's more difficult to analyze an event critically when you have witnessed it firsthand.

As highlighted by Paul Mason, social media platforms, particularly Twitter, have made it more difficult for both the Israeli government, and the mainstream US media, to portray the Israeli offensive on Gaza in a positive light.

A recent attack on Shujaiya, a neighborhood in Gaza, was live-Tweeted by both Palestinians and reporters on the ground. The attack resulted in the deaths of civilians, and the tweets could be corroborated with pictures. Consequently, as Mason notes:

... For the first time in a major Arab-Israeli conflict, the American public has other sources of reality. All research says that young people everywhere regard Twitter as essentially a news service, and via your social network you can easily get served up words and pictures more impactful than anything on TV... Israel is losing the hearts and minds of the world... in the JPEGs that stream into millions of people's mobile phones every time they glance at the object in the palm of their hand... That's how much power the social media has put in the hands of people, and taken away from governments.

The Atlantic recently published an article entitled, "Why Is Israel Losing A War It's Winning?" It offers a number of sound points in response to this question, essentially highlighting the fact that Israel is dominating Hamas, but losing on the public relations front.

One of the most important points the article makes is that it's in the interest of Hamas for Israel to continue killing civilians. It reflects negatively on Israel when images of dead Palestinian children flood the Internet, and strengthens the cause of Hamas.

Furthermore, as noted in the Washington Post,

While children die in strikes against the military infrastructure that Hamas’s leaders deliberately placed in and among homes, those leaders remain safe in their own tunnels. There they continue to reject cease-fire proposals, instead outlining a long list of unacceptable demands.

In essence, this conflict is not black and white, there are shades of grey. The Israeli assault on Gaza is arguably disproportionate, and some might contend that the Israeli government has committed war crimes.

At the same time, Hamas is hardly worthy of praise either. Meanwhile, ordinary people in Gaza continue to pay the price, as they have throughout the Israeli blockade of the territory.

The fact of the matter is, there needs to be a greater regard for human life and human rights on both sides of this conflict.

Photo Courtesy: Jewish Agency