Social Media and Armed Forces | The example of Israel

*Dr.  Lambros G. Kaoullas

Published on 05/05/2020 at 18:30

The ability of Social Media, also known as “New Media” to combine text, audiovisual content and interaction between their users, has given them great influence and dynamics, elements that couldn’t go unnoticed by the Armed Forces.

Armed Forces around the world appear to have adopted (some more than the others) the trends of the digital age. A prime example to emulate is the use of Social Media by the Israel Defence Forces.  

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been an early investor in the field of communications. The central pillar is the “IDF Spokesperson’s Unit” (ISU).  ISU is commanded by a Spokesman (IDF Spokesperson), who is currently Commander Hidai Zilberman. ISU’s official responsibilities, both during war and peacetime, are to advise the General Staff on all communications and information related issues as well as to develop and implement an information policy.  ISU not only consists of Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s) but also takes full advantage of the expertise provided by talented conscripts and members of the reserve forces. Reservists serving at ISU include academics and practitioners from various disciplines and crafts, including inter alia journalists, TV-presenters, photographers, filmmakers, university professors, political scientists, economists, as well as graphic arts specialists, marketeers, typographers and public relations experts. 

A public relations staff has been created since the first “War for Independence” of 1948, in order for the army to “speak” with one voice, at a time when the IDF were founded through the unification of the various armed, anti-colonial, Jewish movements operating during the “British Mandate for Palestine” era. The ISU was evolving and adapting to the needs.  During the “Six Day War” of 1967, ISU added to its media relations terms like field security, psychological warfare and relationships with foreign military attaches, while further professionalization steps were taken after the 1973 “Yom Kippur” War.  In the “asymmetric” war in Lebanon in 2006, Hezbollah effectively used digital media for psychological and information warfare, while exploiting the security gaps of Israeli soldiers’ cell phones, extracting information. This, alongside with operations in Gaza in 2009, pushed ISU in adapting to the “New Media”. 

The official presence of IDFs on conventional internet is the website (www.idf.il).  IDF are present on all major social media platforms such as Instagram (@idf), YouTube (@israeldefenseforces)Twitter (@idf), Facebook (@idfonline) and Snapchat Snapchat (@idfofficial).

Three illustrative examples of IDF’s use of social media: 

  1. Lieutenant-Colonel Avichay Adraee communicates in Arabic on Twitter (@avichayadraee) and Facebook (@idfarabicavichayadraee) and has gained a large audience and direct influence throughout the Arab world. A Persian Twitter account was created in August 2019 (@IDFFarsi). 
  2. Smart and fast adaptation to the communication needs of the rapidly evolving digital realm. As things are now moving around the “economy of attention” -which has been diminished with the abundance of information-  techniques and methods such as memes, gifs, emoticons, trolling, clickbaiting and hashtags are being used creatively in order to set trends, or exploiting existing ones. One of the most recent trends is #JiHadEnough, which is used in social media posts related to target elimination, such as the executives of “Islamic Jihad” in Gaza. 
  3. Social Media presence on the most popular platforms, especially those which are popular among young people. Young people are the backbone of IDFs’ force due not only due to their compulsory time of service but as well as the fact that they are a large proportion of the reservists. IDF had set up recently (end of January 2020) a TikTok account. The “playful” account (@idfofficial) includes scenes from demanding exercises to marriage proposals. As with other cases, the introduction of the account came with the element of “shock”, as they advertised it in the following way: “Tik Tok Tik Tok Tik Tok BOOM – The IDF is official on TikTok”. This approach very often causes a negative reaction, even revulsion, but it is this exact “provocative” approach that ensures massive interest from the people. 

ISU is characterized by imagination and innovation, and its leaders dare to think and act outside of the box, without fearing the advancing technology or any social upheavals coming along with it. IDFs leaders embrace change and thus help to reinforce a security culture, gather information, and reduce walkouts through a positive presentation of the compulsory army service. Practical outcome: Continuous renewal of the Israeli narrative and the defense of the IDF mission and the Jewish character of the State of Israel. 


*Police Studies, Open University of Cyprus




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