Hearts and Minds and Tweets
Propaganda has long been a staple for states in time of duress or war. Trying to convince people that they need to sacrifice their daily comforts or even their lives takes a lot of cunning manipulation that cannot be exposed as cunning manipulation. It should hardly be surprising that as communication has changed so has the nature of propaganda.
Israel probably has one of the worst international reputations due to the unresolved situation of Palestine. To cope with the growth of anti-Israeli sentiment permeating the annals of the internet the Foreign Ministry has begun to collect teams of students and demobilized soldiers to troll the chat forums, blogs, twitter accounts and comment threads of articles in search of criticism and to respond with positive Israeli sentiments.
According to an article published in Calcalist and translated into English on Occupation Magazine, recruits will be directed to hot topics and fed interesting arguing points. However it is pointed out that members of the “internet fighting team” will write in their own voices but will be employed by the ministry and will be towing the company line. They will not identify themselves as employed mouthpieces for any agency.
This is intriguing to me for a multitude of reasons. First of all, in a country with conscription why do they have to employ people to do this? Can’t they just compel people, or is this also serving as some form of government inspired economic stimulus? If the latter, could social programs soon be created employing people to trumpet whatever policy line requires support?
Inspiration for the program is accredited to the more nefarious lurkers of the internet commercial juggernaut– paid shills. There are plenty of enterprising companies that have sent mystery commentators into the ether leaving positive statements about products and services on any seemingly relevant posting. From personal experience I have seen similar action from political campaigners who leave canned messages about ballot propositions. However the more sophisticated the writer the harder it is to determine whether they’re expressing a true and independent opinion or simply on the clock.
How big is the paid response industry? Will it soon replace call centers as the most annoying job in the world? The internet has created some pretty odd opportunities for unemployable people, like gaming centers in mainland China or pro-bloggers or, well, porn.
But even more mind-boggling is the Jewish Internet Defense Force, an organization that coordinates “pro-Israel advocacy” and fights “antisemitism and terrorism on the web”. They look artificially homegrown and I suspect there’s some big money and direction behind the scenes, despite their fundraising links and cool merchandise. Sounds like a PR firm when you brag about disseminating “news and information” to people through social media sites. I could be wrong but even if I am and they truly are grassroots and well-intentioned it says something when your personal sense of style and operations mimics the most reviled industry this side of toxic waste disposal.
Top picture by Joe Raedle/Getty, stolen without mercy from IraqSlogger. Please note these aren’t Israeli troops but that picture just doesn’t seem to exist. Kudos to the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch for the initial news.