Tuesday, January 20, 2009

War and Social Networking

I'm sure most of you have noticed that I've been living in a war zone for the last 3 weeks. Personally, the effects aren't major; the war is a hundred miles south of me and it's more-or-less business as usual in my life. I'm not going to write about that. As usual, what I'm going to write about is social media.

Some of my colleagues have made huge efforts to support Israel through various online media. I assume the other side also has its supporters doing the same, obviously not from the Gaza strip, because getting online is a problem, but they have their supporters outside the strip. I've gotten email from various international charities supporting humanitarian efforts, as well.

Before I go into the war specifically, let me be clear that social media and the internet have made an enormous contribution to the non-profit world and to do-gooders everywhere. The most obvious and successful examples are Kiva and One, but there are many, many more. I do not for a moment place doubt on the power of the digital media.

However, the digital and social media world isn't going to win the war. It isn't going to impact the war. It doesn't matter one byte, and these are the reasons:

  1. War consists of things like killing people and destroying stuff. Your blog and youtube video are all nice, but they will neither destroy more stuff nor prevent stuff from being destroyed.

  2. Your blog and youtube video aren't going to change anyone's opinion. That includes this blog. The sides are so far apart, and almost everyone following the news on this subject has an opinion already, so forget it. If you like watching videos of soldiers either helping or shooting guys on the other side, you will find videos to your taste. If you don't want to hear the other side's opinion (the most likely scenario), you won't watch those videos.

  3. It could be argued that being bombarded with this much media desensitizes us to it. I don't know about that, but personally it just makes me sick, so I avoid it.

  4. I know this will shock everyone (not!) but you know those online polls asking whether you support Israel or the Palestinians? They don't actually influence the results. They don't actually influence international opinion either. The only thing they represent is how fast Jews can pass along email as opposed to how fast Arabs can pass along email. Since I think we all know the answer to that question, you don't have to feel any obligation to cast your vote in those anymore.

  5. And finally, the reason that social media won't win the war is that the concept of winning the war is an oxymoron. It just isn't conceivable to me that killing people and destroying stuff is "winning". I mean, it's measurable, and that's all good and fine, and we definitely got a higher "score" on destroying stuff, but what kind of "win" is that? We're going to end up paying for putting it back together, directly or indirectly, so it's a little ridiculous.

  6. Moreover, the huge amount of media attention is counterproductive, in particular to Israel. Israel is constantly complaining how it gets the short end of the stick, how it is accused unfairly of atrocities, etc. Ya know, it would help if we would just shut our traps for a while. The more we talk, the more we get other people to talk about it. We say "when x country committed worse crimes, nobody said anything..." Yeah, because they knew how to shut their traps. We just can't shut up, and then we complain how the world looks at us with a magnifying glass. Honestly, keeping our traps shut would serve us a lot better than trying to win a war of words. Nobody can measure that, anyway.

It's been common knowledge for a long time that this kind of war doesn't solve anything. The conflict will be resolved through negotiation, if at all. Meanwhile, the debates in the social media are counter productive. It really doesn't matter who is right, or who is horrid, who is generous, who is winning, or who did what to whom first. It happens to matter who is dead and what is destroyed, because the more dead and the more destroyed, the less chance to reach a compromise both sides can live with. It also matters that we spend our time accusing others and justifying ourselves instead of working towards something productive.

I'm not saying the other side is right. I'm saying, it doesn't matter who is right because we are both losing and we are using old-fashioned metrics to try and prove that we aren't.

It's about time we took responsibility for our words and actions in the social media, and stopped thinking in terms of "winning the war of words". It's completely irrelevant. Save your breath and your bytes and start thinking of how to say, do, and post something that could bring about a solution in the future rather than describe misdeeds of the past.


shosh_mz said...

Agreed. I've been astonished how many people wrote as if they thought a two-line Facebook status or joining a online only movement could change a people's mind and impact events. I do, however, appreciate it when people post articles because I can't read every paper or website everyday, so its good to get links to stuff I might have missed otherwise.

Dave E said...

So true, and in so many respects. If I had 5¢ for every FB cause invite I received to "Save Israel, Nuke Palestine," (I exaggerate, though slightly) I'd have amassed enough cash to rebuild Gaza ... OK, maybe Sderot. Anyway, I very much agree that so much of this homegrown "hasbara" amounts to little in terms of practical impact. Yet propaganda can be an essential part of a country's overall war machine when it's well-done, well-placed, and HIGH-PROFILE. That's what so much of the FB / YouTube / etc. stuff lacks. Anyway, a "spot on" blog piece!