By Hannah Sharron, University of Birmingham student
Almost everyone – with the exception of my dinosaur father – uses social media. We read articles declaring that we’re too obsessed with our smartphones, tablets and laptops.
However, very few people actually choose to stop using Facebook or Twitter, whether because they enjoy keeping up-to-date with others’ lives or because they would simply feel left out if they didn’t use it.
Perhaps the biggest and most relevant example of how social media is ‘taking over’ is the fact that social media has become the latest military weapon: the IDF has Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
There are benefits to using social media in this setting: the IDF can instantly promote its cartoons, such as the powerful ‘What would you do?’ which depicts rockets raining down on London, Paris and Sydney.
They can boost morale by sharing video clips of soldiers dancing to upbeat Jewish songs before they enter Gaza, and they can expose the atrocities of Hamas, such as a recent image on the IDF’s Instagram page that displayed explosive devices stored next to a baby’s cradle in a civilian home.
So yes, there are benefits to the IDF using social media – and we, its soldiers in the diaspora, retweet and share these posts.
But herein lies the first of the problems of fighting a war on a social media platform.
Before I explain, let’s be clear – I use the term ‘fighting a war’ loosely. I of course do not equate writing a post on Facebook to actually donning that uniform and entering Gaza.
But as a student living outside of Israel, this is the closest I can get to defending Israel. Yet I’m not defending Israel from her enemies when I ‘share’ a pro-Israeli post on Facebook. The people who see that post are the people on my friends list, and the majority of my Facebook friends are already staunch supporters of Israel.
Not only my friends from Jewish schools and summer camps, but many of my non-Jewish coursemates at the University of Birmingham pride themselves on supporting Israel too.
So the first problem is that I’m preaching to the choir. No matter how many well-written articles and informative video clips I share on Facebook or retweet on Twitter, the majority of people who read these posts are not the target audience. That’s the first problem with fighting Israel’s battle on social media.
Secondly, let’s suppose that something I post is seen by someone who opposes Israel. They comment, and I respond. They respond, and I respond. And on, and on, and on…
This week, a Facebook friend – who is certainly not a friend in real life (not only because of his political views) – replied to a video I shared, which showed Hamas terrorists using physical force to keep Gazans in their homes after Israel warned them to evacuate.
This person suggested that Israel “shouldn’t be bombing civilians’ homes in the first place.” A lengthy conversation followed, over a few days and a few different posts. By the end, I was tired. I knew that I was achieving nothing.
This person was so committed to his view, to seeing Israel as the enemy, that my responses were making no difference. Indeed, a friend of mine pointed out that he didn’t even reply to my comments, instead bringing up new arguments.
This, I believe, is the second problem with using social media to defend Israel. Nobody is capable of convincing anyone else. This person did not change my mind, and I certainly did not affect his stance either.
It is totally futile to attempt a fair discussion over Facebook or Twitter, because it’s not going to change the outcome of events in the region, not is it going to change our own personal views and ultimately therefore it is pointless – because it can have no positive outcome.
So, instead of fighting a war using social media, I’m declaring a personal war on social media itself: I have resolved not to drag my Facebook profile or my Twitter account into this war.
I have stopped posting, sharing and retweeting anything related to the conflict. Instead, I’m devoting my time to activity away from the screen.
Last night, I attended an emergency meeting hosted by the Zionist Federation, after which I felt more empowered than I have in a long time.
Now I’m writing to my MP, encouraging him to support Israel and to encourage our Prime Minister to continue his support, and I am raising money for those who provide much-needed supplies to our soldiers.
In my opinion, these are far more helpful activities than simply clicking a mouse across a Facebook page.
The articles being written and pictures being shared are important, but there are people who will ensure that they reach the right audiences.
I’m leaving that to them, and my role in this war is not based in social media any more. It’s practical, hands-on, and it’s direct.