Saturday, December 1, 2012

Social Media: Changing Coverage of International Conflicts

As November comes to an end, I look back at the cumbersome developments seen across the Middle East throughout the last 30 days. While Palestinians celebrated a long overdue majority vote at the UN General Assembly to be recognized as a non-member observer state, Egyptian protestors are finding their way back to Tahrir Square as the People's Assembly votes on the new Constitution. Demonstrations continue to hit many capitals in the Arab World, nonetheless the most tragic November event was yet another escalation of the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the recent Gaza War.

Social media is, once again, attracting much attention as these developments are not only taking place offline but also in the virtual space of the internet. The recent Gaza War was tracked step by step on Twitter when both parties decided to communicate directly with internet users across the world. In fact, the Israeli Defense Force has had a considerably strong presence on social media using Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram and more platforms to cover the developments of the war. "The news about the Jabri assassination went to the 'twittersphere' even before it was announced to the media during a military briefing, which can be arguably called the first declaration of war on a micro-blog." (RT)

Similarly, Al Qasem Brigades and various Gazan activists were heavily depending on social media to spread videos, photos and other updates on the Israeli attacks on the Strip. Reports and statements were being highlighted with trending hashtags by opposing entities such as #Gazaunderattack, #LifeUnderRockets, #Gaza and #PillarofDefense.

Real and fake accounts of officials from both sides were taking over the discourse, causing a global confusion as to the credibility of the information being shared. References to social media as a new 'weapon' for war and the spread of propaganda have been heightened over the past few weeks calling for a more responsible, non-partisan coverage of international conflicts.

In this respect, I chose to write this blogpost to share the work of an activist and reporter who decided to take on the challenge of covering the Gaza War through social media tools. Harry Fear, a documentary maker and activist, decided to use all resources available on the web to cover the Gaza War from the ground. 

Fear has been using UStream, LiveStream, Youtube, Facebook, Vimeo, and Twitter to provide 24-hour live coverage of all developments. Interviewed by almost all International News TV Stations, Fear has been collecting data and disseminating it to the public through social media tools. His statements and opinions were extensively re-tweeted and shared around the world making him one of the reliable sources for shaping online public opinion - especially in times when it is difficult to tell fact from fiction.

With that being said, and while many may criticize the 'weaponization' of social media by warring parties, one may also emphasize that social media is bringing international conflicts to our homes. It is continuously reminding us of our responsibility to look for credible information and to take a stand on such conflicts as we deem appropriate.

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