The Persian Gulf War marked a major change in the way Americans experienced combat from their living rooms. It was the first time civilians got to see explosions going off under computerized crosshairs, in grainy black-and-white — a development that led people to marvel at war’s growing resemblance to video games. Then came YouTube. Suddenly, Internet users had on-demand access to a wealth of helmetcam footage — this time in color — taken by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, for the most part, you had to dig it up yourself if you wanted to watch.
Now we’ve arrived at the latest iteration in digital warfare: when military operations are liveblogged in real time, and the updates are delivered right to your social newsfeed.
Over the past six hours, Israel’s military has been hammering Gaza with a barrage of missiles. The IDF’s public relations team, meanwhile, has just as steadily been covering the offensive — updating its Twitter handle, @IDFSpokesperson, with the play-by-play on Operation Pillar of Defense. Within moments of the opening salvo, IDF officials announced that they’d killed the top operative in Hamas’ armed services:
Breaking news on social media may seem like oh-so-2009. But livetweeting an ongoing mission is something we haven’t seen before. Minutes after the initial announcement, the IDF posted a video of what it claimed to be the airstrike that killed Ahmed Jabri, the Hamas official:
The IDF then literally told the enemy to run and hide — an instruction that has so far been retweeted over 2,000 times:
We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.
It gets weirder: In reply to that message, Hamas’ military wing wrote back … on Twitter.
@idfspokesperson Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)
— Alqassam Brigades (@AlqassamBrigade) November 14, 2012
So now what we’re looking at is a full-on information war being waged over the Internet in addition to in the streets. The exchange is reminiscent of an earlier encounter between NATO officials in Afghanistan and Taliban sympathizers. But that incident was widely read as a tension-reliever in the aftermath of violence, evidence that even enemies could talk reasonably. This, on the other hand — a coordinated PR attack in the midst of battle — feels far more serious.