Rebecca L. Stein
In late April, an amateur video of Israeli army aggression in the occupied West Bank began to circulate online. The content was neither new nor surprising: a soldier shoving, kicking and pointing his gun at unarmed Palestinian teenagers in Hebron’s old city. What was new, however, was the form and scale of the public response. When the soldier was suspended, the Israeli public mobilised on social media in unprecedented numbers to support their ‘brother in arms’. Pundits called it the army’s first ‘digital rebellion’. Thousands of soldiers uploaded mobile snapshots of themselves holding handwritten protest banners: ‘We are with David the Nahalite’ (the suspended soldier was in the Nahal Infantry Brigade). In some of the selfies, the message was written on the soldiers’ half-naked bodies; in others it was spelled out in ammunition. The meme then spread to civilians, who uploaded pictures of themselves at home or at work, with pets and household objects rather than guns.
It has become commonplace to describe the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as Facebook or Twitter revolutions; and almost as commonplace to respond that the role of social media in popular insurgencies has been exaggerated. Less attention, however, has been paid to states’ use of these technologies as PR and counterinsurgency tools. Look at Israel, for instance.