Blogs, YouTube: the new battleground of Gaza conflict?
In the following article by Yigal Schleifer at the Christian Science Monitor, summits his perspective on the use of web 2.0 to analyse the recent Israeli attack on Gaza. According to Schleifer the virtual world is the "new" battleground. ..." the on-line community participated in shaping the news, and was enlisted in the effort to influence public opinion in an unprecedented – and sometimes worrisome – way. There were two wars going on. There was the one going on on the ground, and a parallel war happening in the virtual world." said Amira Al Hussaini. "The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) set up its own YouTube channel, showing footage taken by unmanned drones flying over Gaza, while Palestinians responded with the launch of Palutube.com, with raw footage showing the destruction in Gaza." From the perspective of Citizen Journalism, such assertion is incomplete as it gives the impression that only pressing issues are covered. Personal perspective on events reign whether it is a pressing or little covered issue for traditional media or govermental propaganda machinery. For instance NP contributed to the coverage on Gaza prior to the Israeli´s attacks. The Gaza´s Humanitarian crisis and the aftermath of the ceasefire have been covered. Thus, it is not only headlines that drives the virtual community to participate in making, commenting and correcting the news. On the contrary, it seems to be driven by the technological power the audience has to question and alert on worldwide issues despite traditional media interest and commercial perspectives or goivernmental propaganda machinery.
By Yigal Schleifer | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor. from the January 23, 2009 edition. Istanbul, Turkey - The recent battle in Gaza between Israel and Hamas wasn't only fought with bullets, bombs, and missiles, but also with keystrokes. Observers say that through Facebook, YouTube, and other Web-based applications, the online community participated in shaping the news, and was enlisted in the effort to influence public opinion in an unprecedented – and sometimes worrisome – way. "There were two wars going on. There was the one going on on the ground, and a parallel war happening in the virtual world," says Amira Al Hussaini, Middle East and North Africa editor for Global Voices Online, a website that aggregates the work of bloggers from around the world. "All the [online] social-networking tools were used to the best of people's abilities on both sides." The online war over Gaza was relentless. Hackers on both sides worked to deface websites, with one attack successfully redirecting traffic from several high-profile Israeli websites to a page featuring anti-Israel messages. Facebook groups supporting the opposing sides were quickly created and soon had hundreds of thousands of members. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) set up its own YouTube channel, showing footage taken by unmanned drones flying over Gaza, while Palestinians responded with the launch of Palutube.com, with raw footage showing the destruction in Gaza. One group, an online collective known as Help Israel Win even encouraged users to download a program that would enlist their computer in an online effort to overload Palestinian websites. Another online organization, called the Jewish Internet Defense Force, has employed various methods to remove or disable Facebook groups that, it says, are clearly antisemitic or actively promote Islamic terrorism or genocide – and thus break "terms of service" rules and possibly some international laws. [Editor's Note: The original mischaracterized the online behavior that the JIDF targets.] "We believe in direct action both to eradicate the problems we face online and to create the publicity that will cause those with the power, companies like Facebook and Google, to take the needed action themselves," a spokesperson for the group, who asked to remain anonymous because of security concerns, wrote in an e-mail. But it's not just independent activists who were busy online. Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based news network, complemented its traditional coverage with innovative new media features, such as sending out reports from Gaza via Twitter, an online messaging service, and posting an interactive map showing where war-related incidents in Gaza and Israel were happening. "This is the first time that new media worked as a proven concept for how a mainstream media organization can cover an event like this online," says Riyaad Minty, a new media analyst with Al Jazeera. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has been working hard to utilize new media tools to press its case. At the beginning of the conflict in Gaza, the Israeli consulate in New York held what was described as the first "governmental" press conference using Twitter. The online event was open to anyone with a Twitter account. The country's Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, working together with the Foreign Ministry's public relations department, has also announced that it is looking for a multilingual "army of bloggers" to help in the aftermath of the Gaza operation. "The blogosphere and new media are another war zone. We have to be relevant there," the head of the IDF's Foreign Press branch, Maj. Avital Leibovich, recently told The Jerusalem Post. But some see the enlistment of the Internet in the Gaza battle as part of a troubling trend."We've been seeing the rise of what I refer to as citizen propaganda," says Ethan Zuckerman, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, who observed a similar online information battle during last summer's conflict between Russia and Georgia. "Rather than becoming the cafe of the world, where we interact on common ground, the Net has become a very effective place to rally people to your own cause and try to coordinate their actions." Adds Mr. Zuckerman: "I think what has become really interesting is that in an era when you have armed conflict between states, you now have people online looking to see how [they] can become part of that conflict without leaving their computers."
DOHA, Qatar (AP) - American viewership of Al-Jazeera English rose dramatically during the Israel-Hamas war, partly because the channel had what CNN and other international networks didn't have: reporters inside Gaza. But the viewers weren't watching it on cable television, where the Arab network's English-language station has almost no U.S. presence. Instead, the station streamed video of Israel's offensive against Hamas on the Internet and took advantage of emerging online media such as the microblogging Web site Twitter to provide real-time updates. During the 22-day conflict that ended last weekend, the station and its Arabic language sister, as they often do, aired far more graphic pictures than U.S. networks of dead and injured Palestinian children and women. The images, viewed widely across the Mideast, generated enormous sympathy for Gazans in the Muslim world. «Gaza ... was a breakthrough opportunity to make an impact with people who are less aware of Al-Jazeera than we'd like,» said Tony Burman, managing director of the English-language channel in Qatar. «There is an alternative perspective our channel provides, and Gaza was a good example,» Burman said.Al-Jazeera had another draw: Its reporters were inside Gaza while international television networks such as CNN were barred by Israel from sending reporters in throughout the entire war. Israeli TV focused mostly on Israeli casualty reports and Hamas rocket barrages. «Having reporters in Gaza _ which others did not have _ that's what made Al-Jazeera stand out and that's important on the Internet,» said Jeff Jarvis, who teaches journalism at the City University of New York and writes about media on his Buzzmachine.com blog. Overall, the station's Web video stream saw a 600 percent jump in worldwide viewership during the Gaza offensive _ and about 60 percent of those hits came from the United States, according to the station's internal numbers. Outside figures also point to big gains in U.S. online interest, suggesting the war gave the Arab station its first significant chance to break into the American market. Traffic to Al-Jazeera's main Web page, which includes both the English and Arabic sites, spiked once Israeli airstrikes began on Dec. 27, according to Amazon.com Inc.'s Alexa Web tracking site. Those figures show the share of Internet users visiting the site shot up about 22 percent over the last three months, with most of the gains coming since the start of the Gaza conflict. The jump in viewership reflects wider trends in global media, where the Web increasingly is the place where viewers go to watch video and social networking sites and citizen journalism are merging with traditional news coverage. Al-Jazeera English and Arabic are both bankrolled by energy-rich Qatar, a U.S. Arab ally that also supports the militant Hamas rulers of Gaza and which recently suspended its low-level ties with Israel to protest the Gaza offensive. Feisty and sometimes graphic coverage of global carnage is an Al-Jazeera specialty, as is bracing commentary that has shaken up the Arab world and rattled the West. Since Al-Jazeera English went on the air in November 2006, it has struggled to gain a spot on traditional American airwaves. The station says only three small cable operators offer the network in Ohio, Vermont and Washington, D.C. None of the biggest U.S. cable systems carries Al-Jazeera English, claiming viewer interest is not sufficient.The former Bush administration had accused Al-Jazeera's Arabic station of anti-American bias. Some members of the administration criticized the network after the Sept. 11 attacks because of its access to and willingness to air tapes of Osama bin Laden. A frustrated President George W. Bush even talked of bombing the Arabic-language channel's headquarters in 2004, according to a leaked British government memo. The publicly owned cable system in Burlington, Vermont, that carries Al-Jazeera English, has faced pressure and even calls for a ballot initiative to remove the channel by a group that claims the station is anti-American. But the Internet has made it possible for the network to reach American viewers despite the limitations of its cable television broadcasts. The English channel has a different staff and separate budget from the Arabic network. Its executives say they have no political agenda in coverage of the Mideast.Politics aside, there is little question that the Gaza war gave the station a viewership boost _ similar to what CNN got on cable in the 1991 Gulf War. From its start, Al-Jazeera English has offered grainy, low-resolution access to the same broadcasts shown on cable television through its Web site. Higher-quality transmissions were also available for a price. A few months before the Gaza offensive began, the network began the same broadcasts on a new Web-based platform known as Livestation, which allows users to watch high-quality broadcasts online live and for free. The service, which is being developed by a London-based technology company partially backed by Microsoft Corp., has also signed up a number of other news networks, including Bloomberg Television and BBC World. Livestation said Al-Jazeera English footage viewed on its site jumped to 17 million minutes worldwide over a two week period during the Gaza conflict, up from 3 million minutes in a similar time period before the conflict began. The service did not break down those numbers by specific country. But it said that over one full week of the Gaza conflict, the number of U.S. viewers to Al-Jazeera English on Livestation surged by six times the usual level. The boost in viewership was also reflected on YouTube where viewers can watch individual television reports. Over the past month during the Gaza crisis, Al-Jazeera was the most viewed English-language traditional news channel on YouTube's «News and Politics» category. The network, like its global rivals, is pushing aggressively into other online media. It set up a page dedicated to Gaza coverage on the «microblogging» site Twitter and is experimenting with interactive maps. It also actively seeks photos and other eyewitness accounts from viewers. Ayman Mohyeldin, the network's 29-year-old correspondent who reported on Israel's military offensive live for 22 days, became a well-known figure to many viewers. Dressed in a bulletproof vest and helmet, the U.S.-educated journalist of Egyptian descent described in great detail life and death during Israeli air raids. He now has at least one fan club on Facebook. Surk reported from Doha and Schreck from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
On the Net Al-Jazeera English site: english.aljazeera.net
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