I will always remember the words of my Headmaster back in 2010: “The political world may seem like a wide ocean, too big for you to navigate or change. But every ocean is made up of an infinite number of individual drops of water; without them it would be nothing.” On the eve of the General Election that year, despite how we were all not yet old enough to vote, he wanted to stress how important individual actions are in what can seem a world so large we cannot affect it. Political apathy was rising, ordinary people felt disengaged from the decision making process and the credibility gap was there; gaping.
But how times have changed. The unleashing of social media’s political potential has shifted how the world operates back into the hands of ordinary people. Now only needing internet access, people have toppled what had seemed unstoppable regimes; they have unlocked the government’s darkest and most coveted secrets; perhaps most tellingly though, social media has been a tool to provide ‘raw’ and ‘honest’ news away from the traditional outlets. It has been able to challenge how we see the world, fuelled by our distrust of a political, business and media elite burgeoning thanks to economic depression, social tensions, war and corruption.
While shifting some power from traditional elites back to the people, social media has been able to funnel and organize this anger into mass protests, occupations and revolution. But this is where the trouble may well begin and where supporters of Israel and peace in the Middle East need to be vigilant.
Already the raw and honest beauty that made social media the go to place for political activists is beginning to be corrupted. Corporations analyse our every move across social media platforms, sponsoring tweets and posts to influence us to become potential customers. Political leaders and parties spew out facts, figures and statistics knowing social media is now the easiest (and cheapest) way to reach out to the mass electorate.
And of course, wherever power goes vested interest groups follows. The rebirth of political engagement through social media has given a platform for those who seek to replace the traditional political elites with themselves. Their goal is not the passionate progressive activism seen in the Arab Spring, but a corrupted propaganda machine seen in ISIS recruitment videos and by Hamas sympathizers and apologists this summer.
People’s beliefs that posts on social media by other apparently equally ordinary people are always true has given way to political actors having the ability to pursue propaganda campaigns to reach their goals without any cross examining or regulation. This was noticeable this summer as a barrage of fake pictures posted on social media such as of roads in Israel divided along ethnic lines but most noticeably the use of some of the most ghastly photos from other conflicts to make an already tense and emotional situation worse.
It was a campaign ruthlessly launched to gain sympathy amongst young, Western Muslims who felt disengaged by the path their countries are taking in foreign affairs, as well as a politically aware, tech savvy, liberal, metropolitan population. Of course, many images posted were real and it would take a cold person not to feel aggrieved at the human cost, especially amongst children, of the conflict this summer. But many, particularly graphic ones, were drawn from different sources or taken well out of context.
The problem is for Israel and its friends was that we were not organized on the social media front to deal with this hearts and minds battle. Pro-Israel rallies began weeks after the pro-Palestinian were organized and reported on. Even more so, often they were spontaneous and reactionary rather than well planned and organized.
Obviously, this spontaneity is encouraging; it shows there is passion for Israel out there, a silent majority waiting to harness the power of social media to defend Israel’s corner. But the onus is on us to use it wisely. Otherwise the world will only see pictures of carnage with snappy captions and powerful slogans when they log on to social media. Without being adaptable to the modern world we will lose the hearts and minds of the world. We need to move quickly to fight this corruption taking hold on politics’ biggest platform.