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When war is pre-packaged for sharing

John D. Sutter, CNN
  • Israel and Hamas release shareable images on social media
  • In some ways, that's backfired, with the Internet mocking the posts

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(CNN) -- As rockets fly in Gaza and Israel, a shareable and ready-to-retweet version of the violence is playing out online.

Official military accounts for the Israel Defense Forces and the military wing of Hamas have been posting slick-looking, social-media-friendly graphics in an effort to sway public opinion.

Here's one example from Israel, retweeted some 2,600 times:

And another from Hamas, retweeted more than 350 times:

Notice that both sides want Internet users to "share this" or "share now." That's a new concept for militaries that are engaged in active conflict, writes Matt Buchanan for BuzzFeed.

"Unlike any propaganda machine before it, it's inherently viral. It's designed to spread," he wrote. The IDF's tweets "are a mixture of documentation, saber rattling, sober reminders of the reality of war, and upbeat updates on the advanced state of its technology. All delivered direct to you. Please RT."

But as both sides seek to distort the reality of a conflict that has killed three Israelis and more than two dozen Palestinians, they could have taken a lesson from social media history: Online marketing campaigns tend to backfire, at least in part.

"On one level, it makes sense for the military to use the internet to provide useful information and possibly even explain its mission to the public. (They have Spanish and French-language versions of the account too, for added global reach.)," writes Dashiell Bennett for The Atlantic Wire. "But the odd tone of the writing, has taken some people aback and left the IDF open to mockery and charges of insensitivity regarding a very sensitive subject."

The people of the Internet have started using the same tools as Israel and Hamas to mock the idea of a military broadcasting live information about itself on social platforms.

"IDF announced the war on Twitter, warned Gazans thru SMS & troops showed us action on Instagram." wrote one Twitter user, @THE_47th. "Israel is the Kim Kardashian of nations."

In response to Hamas' death toll image, one Twitter user wrote: "so be *real* heroes for your people - stop firing back. Restraint is what requires real courage."

The jabs -- some humorous, some serious -- show how difficult it can be to control the conversation in an era of real-time media.

Here's one of the more-discussed critiques of Israel's social media campaign, in which a writer for the site BuzzFeed created a fake tweet from the Israel Defense Forces:

That post, in which the author appears to mock use of social media, also raised questions about humor during a violent conflict, and the authenticity of information on social networks.

"Does a journalist faking a tweet from an official govt account cross a line?" asked Alex Howard, a writer at O'Reilly Media.

BuzzFeed's co-founder came to the defense of that tweet's author:

Some criticism takes a more serious tone.

"The Twitter/BuzzFeed friendly media strategy of IDF this time -- big infographics, tweets made to go viral etc -- scares the hell out of me," Tom Gara wrote on Twitter.

And others fear the tit-for-tat could actually escalate the conflict.

"This is a new reality of war," Heather Hurlburt, from the National Security Network, told the Los Angeles Times. "And I worry that it's going to make it harder to stand down."

There already have been some efforts to quantify who is winning the war on social media. Hamas wins when it comes to the use of its hashtag, writes a blogger for the Washington Post. Israel is winning the follower count battle, says BuzzFeed.

But there are also, of course, voices in the middle.

Andy Carvin, a senior strategist at NPR, has been aggregating and retweeting people in both Israel and Gaza.

Those posts, and others from journalists on the ground tend to show a grittier reality of the violence in the Middle East:

Let us know what you think of the social media tactics in the comments.

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