Oh, Israel! Spare us this meretricious war porn

By Milo Yiannopoulos on November 16th, 2012

This week, the state of Israel did something really rather extraordinary. You’ve probably read about it elsewhere already. The country used social software services like Twitter, Facebook and Flickr to document the latest episode in its fight for survival against the Hamas terrorists in Palestine, posting videos to YouTube of its rocket offensives and live-tweeting the assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmad Jabari.

This is a remarkable development for all sorts of reasons. Not least among them is the watershed moment of a state using its official channels to crow about military victories – by which I mean killings – on social media, entirely bypassing an international media that is often unacceptably partisan about this valiant young country strugging for survival against the massed hordes of extremists who would see it driven into the sea, but at the same time sacrificing a lot of sympathy.

Why? Well, some of Israel’s tweets did come across as a bit sinister, didn’t they? We’ll come to why that’s significant in a moment.

Of course, the story gets even more extraordinary than YouTubed rockets and Twittered homicides. The Israeli Defence Force has “gamified” its war blog as well, effectively turning a record of violent conflict into a socially enabled digital toy. This was inevitable, really, but it’s no less shocking for the chutzpah with which Israel is treating its conflict with Palestinian terrorists.

Israel has an undeniable right to defend itself with all necessary force against the barbarism at its borders, but this is war, and people are dying. You might imagine a bit more sensitivity to be forthcoming, if only for public relations purposes. Still, if Israel was intending to create headlines, it has certainly succeeded.

A few silly social media commentators have questioned, in their typically asinine manner, whether Israel’s documentation of war on social media violates the San Francisco company’s terms of service, as if that’s relevant to such a dramatic development in geopolitical affairs. But maturer commentators are now asking what this means for the future of war – and of war reporting.

Because there has been much talk in recent years of “cutting out the middle man” in new media circles, as journalists foolishly debase themselves by recasting their professional responsibilities as little more than “curation” and “community building”. Israel’s brassy moves this week have taken the commentariat at their word – with dramatic results.

Are we to see a new kind of war waged in public, via social media, with comments, Like buttons and in-built virality? Let us hope not. This sort of “war porn” is precisely what the genteel mediating layer of journalism exists to protect the public from – even if my colleagues are suffering from a temporary, Twitter-induced delusion that has made them forget their fourth estate obligations.

And yet, you can hardly blame Israel for leveraging its virtually unparalleled technological nous to make waves. After all, terrorists – particularly of the Islamist variety – have been using the internet to co-ordinate and to intimidate across borders, in real time, for more than a decade. The proper context in which to view the ballsy show Israel has put on this week might be as a response to the oppressive terror of Al Qaeda.

The late Osama bin Laden enjoyed nothing so much as tormenting his western nemeses with grotesque and threatening videos seeded on the internet for the ummah – and the rest of the world – to digest. And Islamic fundamentalist forums have long been a hotbed of incitement to violence and radicalism. Nowhere more so than in our own British Isles, where Islamist student organisations at London universities have been repeatedly exposed as the sources of violent online Islamist propaganda.

You have to wonder how bitter a pill it is for Islamic extremists to swallow, having their own tactics of fear-mongering and intimidation via the internet thrown back at them in such a glossy, expensive-looking manner. The high production values of the IDF’s website and the extraordinary agility of its tweeters, bloggers and photographers have demonstrated that it ain’t just Muslims who can use the internet to reach, and perhaps scare, millions.

All that said, I can’t help but find Israel’s polished digital products slightly disturbing, blurring as they do the line between video game and reality. There’s something deeply macabre about an inhumanity that turns war reporting into an activity that rewards readers with badges and awards. There’s enough evidence out there that young men are mistaking pornography for ideal real world sex, and that young people are secretly lusting to act out their Grand Theft Auto fantasies.

Israel has made its point: it is more than capable of beating the extremists when it comes to digital warfare. Its dissemination of highly compelling “news” was terrifyingly effortless. But we can be spared any more of this exhibitionism, I think. Quite apart from the distressing amount of common ground it shares with genres of digital fiction, this creepy form of triumphalism makes it impossible to defend Israel’s otherwise noble crusade against the savages at its door.

Israel has plenty to be proud of. But the country must now demonstrate its maturity by bringing tormentors to justice at international courts, not by bombing terrorists’ host countries into the Stone Age – however extreme the provocation. And it should never again, under any circumstances, yield to the adolescent impulses that prompted it to live-tweet the deaths of its enemies.