Violence via Twitter

19:00, Nov 19 2012

The world often looks pretty nice through social media. The control we have when putting content there keeps it somewhat vanilla - uploading only the photos where everyone looks happy and discussing things that are generally inoffensive. As our use grows, the (non-Instagram) filters recede, letting these networks represent the real world more and more. Still, seeing all the Instagram posts from Israeli soldiers was pretty jarring.

I did some light stalking of the soldiers on Instagram, intrigued by the juxtaposition of entirely normal Instagram photos (hanging by the pool!) with explosions as viewed from a tank. Even better was the two worlds combined in one photo. I can't quite envision a world where it seems normal seeing the tags "#instamood" and "#warrior #kill #m16" on the same photo. Obviously, it helps that all Israeli teenagers are required to serve - you are bound to get some compulsive sharers if your sample size is the entire teenage population.

The social media buck doesn't stop there, of course: the IDF are waging a social media war before a full-scale military one, with slick shareable images and adept use of social media conventions.  Live-tweeting military operations that kill infants is both sickening and inevitable - the logical extension of what these tools enable us to do. Live-tweeting is only the start, however - the IDF blog has now been "gamified", with achievements for sharing the content and huge "eliminated" stamps on dead targets. The only tweet I have heard about them deleting? One which asks for peace.

Obviously, this isn't the first time violence and social media have crossed paths. Out of all the content from Arab Spring, the Iranian girl dying on YouTube (I doubt you want to click that) remains the most vivid to me.

Barrels of virtual ink has been used on the "growing importance of social media". Barack Obama essentially announced his win via Twitter. Donald Trump's tweets are grounds for an article. Twitter was a hugely important tool during the Christchurch earthquakes. 

Interestingly, I don't often feel this with other forms of media. It doesn't seem all that strange to see news footage from a war zone any more. This could just be the newness - Vietnam was the first television war; in 40 years, seeing war zone tweets will probably seem just as commonplace. It's also something about the familiarity we have with social media - that these people who usually seem completely different from us use the exact same tools as we do, only for much more substantial purposes. These tools were born in completely sanitised conditions - Harvard and Silicon Valley - but they work incredibly well for interactions a cultural galaxy away.