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Gaza War of Hashtags, #IDF vs #Hamas November 18, 2012

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends.
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 by Joanne KY Teoh
Is social media the new weapon of mass destruction? It sure looks that way as Israel and Hamas take their battle to the micro-blogging world in the most explicit example yet of how Twitterblogs, Facebook, FlickrPinterest and YouTube can be used as weapons of war. And we’re not talking about flame wars.

Waging its war on the streets and online, the Israeli Defense Force is bombing “terror targets” in Gaza and Webcasting details of its attack with hashtags, online taunts and multimedia claims of destruction. Here is that first tweet announcing the operation:

Bragging next about killing the head of the military wing of Hamas, Ahmed Al-Jabari via its live-blog, Twitter  and Youtube,  the IDF then literally warned the enemy to run and hide via a tweet that has been retweeted 2000 times: “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”

Then it gets surreal. In their usual florid prose, Al Qassam Brigades the military wing of Hamas tweeted about martyrdom and  fires of hell.: “Assassination of the great leader Ahmed al Jabari is the beginning of liberation war and ominous harbinger on sons of Zion”:

The IDF also created an official Tumblr, uploading graphics that highlight attacks on Israeli citizens by militant Palestinians. To be sure, war always has its propaganda machine. But this coordinated cacophony in the midst of battle opens a new front.

Never before has spin on military action been touted like this on social media, in real time. Even the hashtags created by both groups to document the violence are spun to milk public sympathy – the IDF tweeting with #PillarOfDefense and Hamas using #GazaUnderAttack.

War is not a game, but gaming features let visitors to the IDF war blog to earn “points” and win badges for sharing as the blog tracks the progress of the conflict. An ID Youtube clip  introduces game dynamics, remixing war footage with a music score that could have come from a video game. Other videos sport motion graphics, complete with gaming sound effects:

It’s not clear who’s running the Al Qassam Brigades twitter feed, but in Israel, the IDF social media operation is run by a 26-year-old immigrant from Belgium named Sacha Dratwa. Social networking sites have been used to energize political campaigns, raise awareness and galvanize the popular revolutions of the Arab Spring. This may be the first war declared via Twitter. It remains to be seen whether Twitter intervenes.

The use of Twitter to announce and comment on military operations is a significant departure for the social networking platform. It potentially brings the feuding groups into conflict with Twitter’s own rules, which state: “Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.” That did not stop the IDF.

The IDF Twitter account invites followers to “read up” on Jabari to understand why the Israeli military killed him and is sending out links to video and articles about Hamas’s past attacks on Israel. It also uploaded the military intelligence it used for targeting to its blog, including photos of sites targeted and video allegedly showing Hamas hiding rockets at one of the sites.

There are merits to this level of transparency. The video (below) of the killing of Jabari shows Israeli forces took care to minimize casualties—and also  made it next to impossible for Hamas to deny his death:

Apparently, the IDF want to save Wikileaks the trouble of digging the footage up and ensure that the news will come straight from the government’s mouth, without the interference of the fourth estate. Time will tell if other nations will adopt similar approaches and boast of assasinations via Twitter, but Gaza is a conflict ideal for social media:

On both sides there’s significant knowledge of English, so this is something that can really be played out in front of the world’s media and on the world stage. … This is an issue that is very visible, an issue where there are significant supporters for both sides all over the world, and it can be explained to a world audience in a language they’ll understand so it’s probably quite likely to be taken up by lots of people via social media.

Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology

Israel also finds itself  in a singular position, geopolitically. Its most consistent ally in the region, the Mubarak regime in Cairo, was overthrown last year and replaced by an Islamist government. Relations with Jerusalem’s most important partner, the United States, were tested by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s all-but-open support of Barack Obama’s rival Mitt Romney in the recent American presidential elections. The need to shape international opinion and rally supporters internationally is acute.

Noah Shachtman at Wired

Unlike the usual war propaganda tactics of leaflets, state-sponsored radio, press conferences and spokesmen, social media campaigns embed themselves into the media that audiences are already consuming. Users are implicitly participating in the cross-fire by retweeting, liking and sharing the social media content.

Gaza is a modern conflict with significant supporters on both sides who are digital natives and who understand English. It is a war ripe for playing out on the global virtual stage with social media and the new ubiquitous online vernacular – video. Audiences are ready.

One week into this war of words, which side is winning the clash of tweets? As crass as it is to measure the unfolding violence in terms of hashtags, the IDF’s stream of ultra-shareable posts, with more multimedia and calls for retweets than a 2.0 best-practice class appears to be getting heard wider. But Gaza’s more muted plaintive cause appears to sound louder.

Related reads

#IDF vs# Hamas: the new Gaza war in 140 characters or less
Military strikes go viral: Israel is live-tweeting its own offensive into Gaza
Operation Pillar of Defense: The First Social Media War
The Kids Behind IDF’s Media


Universities Embrace Social Media October 9, 2012

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Convergence, Education, News, Social Media, Trends.
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Colleges and universities in the US are embracing social media to connect with students, alumni, prospective students, and donors.

According to BestCollegesOnline.com, one in three schools indicate that they achieve better results with social media than through traditional media.

Data from a study by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth show:

98% of colleges and universities report having a Facebook page
84% have a school Twitter account
66% have a blog
41% have a podcast

This infographic shows how those in higher education are using social media.

Compiled By: BestCollegesOnline.com

Egypt: Web Videos Spur Facebook Revolt February 12, 2011

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Convergence, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, Web Video, YouTube.
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Amid euphoric scenes on the streets of Egypt, it is clear that the Web is a potent catalyst of political change. As befits a revolution galvanized by social networking, the feeling on the streets is one of individual and collective empowerment as citizen videos show the historic moment, when Mubarak’s resignation as President of Egypt was announced at the hour of evening prayer.

This video shared by YouTube’s Citizen Tube through Twitter shows people at prayer in Tahrir Square holding off the celebration until it is finished before breaking into cheers.

Even though Mubarak has stepped down, the story of Egypt is not over, and neither is the work of cyber-activists. With the military now running the country, it is uncertain what level of digital freedom or online surveillance lies ahead.

Asmaa Mahfouz, a 26-year old Egyptian woman who began online political activism in 2008, is now credited for launching the video call that sparked the revolution. Mahfouz recorded the video below on January 18th, uploaded it to YouTube, and shared it on her Facebook. Within days, the video went viral:

Young people forwarded it on mobile phones – a communications tool that some 65 million Egyptians use. Soon after, the government blocked all mobile phone networks. This was not the first time a young activist used the Internet to mobilize, but it departed from the convenient anonymity of online activism.

Mahfouz is one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, a group of young, Internet-savvy activists. Time will judge whether it is accurate to credit this one video and young woman with catalyzing the Egypt revolt. At the very least, her video advocacy captures the zeigeist of an important moment in history:

If Asmaa Mahfouz’s Web video captures the spirit of the political times, Egypt’s anti-Mubarak street movement found a hero to rally around in Wael Ghonim. The 30-year old Google marketing executive created an anonymous Facebook page, “We Are All Khaled Said” named in honor of a blogger beaten to death by police last summer.

The page, launched over six months ago, became a rallying point for demonstrations. What started as a campaign against police brutality grew into an online hub for young Egyptians to share their frustrations over the abuses of the Mubarak regime. Ghonim was detained for 10 days after starting the Facebook page.

The online organizing through Facebook, e-mail list serves and Google Docs that sprung out of it catalyzed cyber activists to collaborate on a kind of movement wiki that is being continually re-edited and improved upon by an expanding Web of contributors.

This is the revolution of the youth of the internet, which became the revolution of the youth of Egypt, then the revolution of Egypt itself.

Wael Ghonim

The Facebook page that Ghonim ran sounded the call for the initial protest on Jan. 25. As the page’s following approached 400,000 people, and word of the event spread, it hosted a constant stream of news, photos, and videos, downloadable fliers, and emotional entreaties for all Egyptians to join the push.

The active early participants in the “We Are All Khaled Said” community were young activists and dissident bloggers, many of whom knew one another and had been organizing against Mubarak’s policies for years. Emboldened by their cyber-purpose, activists took their collective confidence to the streets, giving each other the sense that they just might bend history on the ground.

Twitterers Defy Tiananmen Ban June 4, 2009

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, Web Video, YouTube.
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Twitterers proved that there are ways to get round the great firewall of China on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen killings. Authorities in China had blocked social networking sites like Twitter and Flickr in an attempt to stop online discussion on the subject.


The Tiananmen anniversary is one of the hottest Twitter topics by users in China. Those too young to have personal memories of 1989 forwarded link to articles in foreign media or simply re-tweeted other people’s posts.

The wide reach of sites like Facebook, which remains accessible, are providing curious students with information they were previously denied. Fans of Tank Man – the man who stood in front of the tanks in the iconic photograph of the protests – were free to remember those who took part and victims of the crackdown.

China bans discussion of the events in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989, when troops quelled weeks of protest by students and workers. Beijing has never released a death toll on what it calls the “4 June incident.” Hundreds are believed to have died in and around the square.


In the anonymity of the online world, Web-savvy youths use mirror sites and proxy servers to explore alternative versions of the official history and to discuss their government’s clumsy efforts at censorship. With YouTube and several blog-hosting websites permanently blocked, advice on how to access Twitter via a proxy, VPN (virtual private network) or Hotspot shield spread around quickly.

Links to photos of policemen blocking the lenses of foreign journalists with their umbrellas was a popular tweet. Many tweets on unrelated topics carried the subject Tiananmen. People typed Tiananmen on every post so the topic is within the 10 most popular on Twitter.

Related posts:
How the Chinese reported Tiananmen
China Blocks Twitter, Flickr, Others as Tiananmen Anniversary Looms
Tiananmen killings: Was the media right?
BBC audio slideshow: Tiananmen Square

Twittering the China Earthquake May 14, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Convergence, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, YouTube.
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Devotees of the micro-messaging service Twitter watched the news unfold before their eyes as a 7.8 magnitude struck Sichuan province in China at 2:28 pm (0628 GMT) on Monday. The “Twitterati” got the news even before networks like Singapore-based Channel NewsAsia, CNN, MSNBC, BBC or the earthquake tracking US Geological Survey had the information.

This is a major disaster the horror of which is only just unfolding. While mainstream media scrambled to put up their “breaking news” headlines of the deadly catastrophe which has killed well over 20,000 people, Twitter had pictures, maps, videos all being sent in real-time. Here’s a glance at Twitter search site SUMMIZE and real-time results for “earthquake”

Micro-blogging outshone mainstream news as the earth shook with tragic consequences because people who felt the quake in China used their mobile phones to dash out “twitter” text messages as events unfolded, via the service provided by San Francisco-based Twitter Inc.

While it is stretching the imagination to suggest that the “Twitterati” knew of the earthquake before the US Geological Survey, Twitter reportedly became a source of information for major news organisations covering the earthquake. Twitterers became a bridge between the Chengdu-based Twitterati and mainstream media:

CNN’s John Vause in Beijing: 900 school children in Sichuan buried; 3000 troops and helicopters, Wen Jiabao on their way. ANDREW LIH (fuzheado)

BBC says 100 confirmed dead and rising. MICHAEL DARRAGH (michaeldarragh)

Here are more Twitter posts:

Slightly dizzy after being shaken around by the Chengdu earthquake for several hours now. CASPERODJ

At home in fact, cooking dinner and getting on with things. Just had another aftershock though.

Twitters are abbreviated text messages that can be instantly posted on online bulletin boards and personal websites and sent to the mobiles of selected friends. They were at the forefront of a gush of quake pictures and video swiftly posted online via Yahoo’s Flickr, Google’s YouTube.

Here’s how information spreads like wildfire on Twitter. First responder Robert Scoble a blogger, who was on the news into the early hours of the morning, was transferring news from the more than 21,180 people he follows to the 23,200 people following him. In turn, many of those folks would re-tweet (the term used to describe a message being re-sent out) the news to their followers.

Twitter was launched in March 2006 to let people share their every move with friends every moment of the day. Twitter users get a maximum of 140 characters a message. Ironically Twitter designer Biz Stone envisioned its potential as a communication tool by a ‘tweet’ warning he received about a California earthquake while about to board a train last year.

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