As a ‘scholar-in-training’, I try to focus my writing (and even thinking) on my dissertation topic and do my best to stay away from ‘distractions’ mainly due to two reasons. Firstly, I want to get my PhD sooner rather than later. Secondly, I want to brand myself through my dissertation research and related writings. Middle Eastern politics, for instance, is a subject I would not touch with a ten foot pole. Yet, after witnessing Pillar of Defense (or #pillarofdefense for the purposes of this blog post), I decided to write on how not to conduct digital diplomacy and underline IDF’s mistakes in message formation and medium selection.
Let me put the impacts of upcoming elections aside, move away from “which party is right in their claims” discussions, and focus solely on IDF’s most recent communication activities. #pillarofdefense shows three divergence from the ongoing Israeli communication attempts: message, timing, and audience.
For years, communication surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been shaped by a ‘victimization’ narrative. Israel showed itself as the victim of terrorist attacks, whereas Palestine showed itself as suffering from Israeli domination and aggression in the region (including Israelis taking Palestinian lands). The most recent exchange between IDF and Alqassam Brigades moves beyond this victimization narrative and demonstrates elements of violence in an awesome coat of threat. What we miss while reading the “tweets” is the fact that both parties are calling for a killing spree in the region in the upcoming days! (And as we can see from Alqassam Brigades’ statistics, hundreds of people are really happy about it!). Dear Twitter users – I mean all of them, let it be the IDF officials, Alqassam Brigades, or individuals who want to support one party or the other -, please be aware of what you are tweeting or retweeting!
Moreover, Israeli messages showed a revenge-oriented mindset. As shown in the initial tweet and the Wild Wild West-influenced poster, the Israeli operation was not being carried out for “protecting” Israelis from future attacks. There was a need for revenge.
Secondly, this communication “assault” was the first one to take place simultaneously with the military operation. IDF uploaded videos, pictures, and shared other critical information with the world wide web as the military operations were going on. Mavi Marmara crisis, for instance, followed a reactive communication understanding, where IDF shared information after the incident was over. In other words, IDF is not aiming to change the agenda, correct an action, apologize, or present its side of the story – IDF is creating the story!
Lastly, the choice of digital communication platforms (IDF Spokesperson’s Twitter account and the IDF Blog) might signal to an appeal to a younger and educated crowd – yet the tone in Israeli messages is too strong to influence educated people’s opinions. It is very unlikely for these messages to change the opinion of an anti-Israeli or an undecided individual. Even “worse” in terms of communication outcomes, pro-Israeli individuals might be disturbed by the elements of revenge and violence (as well as the militaristic tone) in these messages. I would argue these messages were crafted for mainly domestic Israeli consumption.
The title of this blog post is “How not to conduct digital diplomacy”. Just because digital diplomacy understanding is based on real-time communication tools, it does not mean you should write the first thing that comes to your mind. Just because it is digital, it does not mean it has no real life implications. Do we need more cyber bullies? While threatening to kill people or giving military ranks to the visitors of your blog, do not forget states conduct diplomacy to engage in negotiations, and peacefully resolve their conflict.