Around the critical security studies blogosphere, a lot of attention has turned to the interface between new social media and the practice of international relations. (For an example close to home, see the recent post on this blog on digital diplomacy.) So, I was intrigued when today’s Yahoo! News featured this story on the how the Israel Defense Forces is using social media to promote its cause.
What strikes me about a) the news story, b) how the news story was (apparently) placed, and c) the activities being reported in the story is that they are all so….well…20th century. Or maybe even 19th century. First, there’s the photo. If the IDF is trying to show that today’s Israeli military is hip and not your father’s (or, since it’s Israel, maybe your mother’s) military, this photo doesn’t do it. The guy looks like what he is: a young military officer, although perhaps a bit less fit than your average 26-year-old officer because he spends so much time in front of his computer. If he does indeed snowboard, as they story claims, you sure wouldn’t know it from the picture.
The story reports on activities that closely resemble what militaries have been doing for a long time: distributing games that help kids identify with the military; publicizing atrocities that have been committed against “our” innocent civilians (I’m reminded of the computer-generated kitten in Wag the Dog); lionizing individual acts of bravery and defiance as emblematic performances of national heroism. There’s a desperate effort to make Lieutenant Dratwa, and his actions, appear as the cutting edge of a new youth-oriented military, but it all looks pretty old-school to me.
The Yahoo story itself (which appears on a bloggish-like portion of the Yahoo news site called “The Lookout”) is heavily derivative of a story that appeared in The Tablet, “a daily, online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture.” The Yahoo article references the story in The Tablet, but it doesn’t give background on The Tablet’s identity as a Jewish-oriented news source with a strong (although certainly not exclusive) Israeli focus. The Tablet, for its part, calls itself an “online magazine,” although it’s not clear, to me at least, where one draws the line between an online magazine, a blog, and a website, a fuzzy line that is perhaps exemplified by the ambiguous identity of Yahoo’s “blog”: The Lookout.
The end result is a meta-P.R. blitz. Yahoo publishes a story on a pseudo-blog about The Tablet publishing a story in a pseudo-magazine about how the IDF places stories through “social” media, including, presumably just such pseudo-blogs and pseudo-magazines. So, if you’re reading the Yahoo story you’re seeing this strategy in action and reading about how it is accomplished. And thus the IDF takes chutzpah to a new level by turning a story about their P.R. effort into a P.R. effort about how they have a P.R. effort that generates stories about…. Well, you get the idea.
Part of the art of public relations is blurring the line between the news release and the “objective” news item. In the case of the IDF’s use of Facebook and Twitter, the “social” media platforms may be the means of dissemination, but there’s nothing particularly interactive, or “social,” or 2.0-ish about how the IDF is using them. In fact, most of what the IDF is doing replicates distinctly pre-Web (or 0.0) tactics. The “new” element is a postmodern reflexiveness that appears to empower the reader but in fact can be used by the media controller to generate new versions of old-style public relations.