If an airstrike happens in Gaza and no one live tweeted it, did it happen? That I’m even pondering this question demonstrates a shift in the evolution of information control in military operations. Perhaps the issue we’re facing is that in times past we needed a barrier between the publicly available information about combat operations and the reality of the flash and shockwave of a bomb hitting a car. Seeing it on the news set the violence outside the banality of the day-to-day, and the news anchor acted as a conduit to deliver the news of violence that was sad but necessary.
By using Twitter to share information about the ongoing airstrikes and rocket attacks, the IDF and Hamas have changed the narrative of violence itself. In many ways, even though we glorify military operations and the heroism of soldiers, war has been framed as a solemn and unfortunate aspect of the political process. In this narrative warfare is not intrinsically part of us, but is forced on us; this point is important when we think about what live tweeting air strikes or rocket attacks really means.
When we think about how we use social media, be it Facebook, Twitter or a Tumblr blog, we are framing our perceptions of ourselves to the world around us. In many ways we can manufacture a self that is better, faster and stronger than what we really are. We aim to put our best construction of ourselves into the digital space for public viewing. Our social media presence is meant to be what we think of as being intrinsically us. This is true for individuals or businesses or governments.
If a Twitter feed (or any social media profile) represents a construction of one’s values, of what one wants people to believe are their best qualities, then triumphantly tweeting an airstrike or rocket attack demonstrates a shift away from the distance we traditionally place between ourselves and the prosecution of institutional violence. On a Twitter feed violence ceases to be an unfortunate outcome of a political failure, and becomes an intrinsic, preferred outcome to be promoted publicly.
Many argue that the function of the state has always been to propagate violence, and that filtering the violence through the news helped maintain a perception of the solemn nature of killing on its behalf. Filtering violence through the news reminded us that the violence wasn’t intrinsically us. Maybe what’s so disturbing about these Twitter feeds is that they highlight the fact that this filter is just a construction and that indeed violence is very much part of the socio-political system we subscribe to, no matter how much we wish it weren’t.