Israel's battle of the narrative on social media - opinion

What to do when your country is in crisis on social media

Today’s youths prefer to share their feelings and emotions through texts and online, in social media, in chat platforms while gaming and in other similar settings (photo credit: SNAPPY GOAT)
Today’s youths prefer to share their feelings and emotions through texts and online, in social media, in chat platforms while gaming and in other similar settings
(photo credit: SNAPPY GOAT)
A war is arguably one of the highest forms of crisis a country can go through, much more than any financial crisis or natural disaster. In a war, there are two battlefields: the real and the virtual. Every crisis extends to the virtual zone, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like a battlefield. If there’s a financial or international crisis, its management is all about letting potential audiences know everything is OK or will get better. In a war there are sides, and thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people taking one side or the other. You’re not just looking at your own narrative and seeking ways to distribute it or engage others in it. In a war, you have to contend with an opposing narrative; that of your enemy and those who support it.
Many Israelis were and are still extremely frustrated with the narrative on social media about what’s going on. It didn’t just start today. It’s been going on for decades. But the bottom line is that Israelis feel extremely misunderstood, because for whatever reason, even if we are dealing with a terrorist organization, and having rockets fired at us, the world seems to still view us as a heartless, reckless Goliath. Facts are disregarded or skewed or just made up, images are photo-shopped or taken from movies and presented as happening in Gaza (no joke!), and there’s no room for discourse. In conditions like that, the underdog always wins. No matter how right you may be, nobody wants to hear it. That’s hard if you’re not perceived to be the underdog, especially if you believe you are.
Everyone has been asking, what should I be saying? What are the talking points that are effective in countering the online narrative of the anti-Israel stand? People on both sides naturally veer toward insisting on picking a side: one side is wrong; the other is right. In reality, that’s not the case. And whether you agree or disagree with the leadership on either side, there are real people who aren’t the decision-makers who are suffering, on both sides.
Gal Gadot, aka Wonder Woman, the Israeli actress who is usually a source of pride for most Israelis, posted on her 53 million-strong Instagram account a statement that was objective, compassionate and caring. It was the perfect and most effective statement. But she came under an enormous amount of flak from both sides: Pro-Palestinians were angered that she called them just “neighbors” and not “Palestinians” or that she didn’t give enough weight to their suffering. Israelis were angered that she didn’t only take the Israeli side. She couldn’t win, but she did her best.
Others are posting explanations about the situation, armed with facts and strong talking points, like Noa Tishbi, also an Israeli actress, who lives in LA and has been a longstanding pro-Israel activist.
Unfortunately, Israel’s detractors will not be convinced by Noa’s rational explanations, nor will anyone who is not a detractor but just simply clueless. It’s way too complicated, and the tone is harsh and angry. The need to share facts is understandable, but it’s a futile exercise and counter-productive because it’s just adding to the narrative about Israel in crisis which by definition is off-putting for audiences.
SO, WHAT can you do?
Jose Torres is the CEO of Bloom Consulting and also a digital identity specialist. His advice is very simple, and very annoying: Don’t engage! Don’t trawl the Internet looking for people who are saying horrid things about your country, and comment, dislike or share. Don’t engage at all.
Wait, what? Don’t engage? Why?
• Because there’s no point – you can’t win. The nature of the Internet, especially social media, is that truth doesn’t matter, and people’s opinions aren’t changed in a split second.
• Because anything you do say or post will be used against you. Let’s say I post an image of me, my husband, kids and dogs in our bomb shelter, hoping for sympathy and to show that we are suffering. Then someone else will say Israelis are lucky to even have bomb shelters, because the Gazans don’t. Or they may post an image from Gaza that looks way, way worse, and it doesn’t matter if it’s an image from now or from 10 years ago – nobody fact checks on social media. The deed has been done.
• Because on social media, it’s too complicated to have a complex message. It has to be simple. And simple is black or white. Not black AND white.
• Because by engaging, you’re adding content to what Israel looks like at times of war, whereas the whole point of place-branding is to show your place when it’s appealing, attractive and most important – relevant to the audiences you’re trying to attract.
When you engage, it’s like trying to put out a fire with fuel. Fires are put out by depriving them of oxygen. Our reactions and comments and retorts to the opposing narrative is the oxygen the anti-Israel narrative desperately needs to become more impactful. So long as we add it to the fire, it will continue burning.
Torres adds, if you want what’s best for the brand of Israel, during the war, don’t engage. You get active in the aftermath, the day after. The moment this is over, start posting images of the Israel you know and love, so you fill the Internet with positive imagery, not negative. That’s how you build a brand. And, he said, do more, much more in-between crises, to push your narrative of who Israel is, what values the Israelis stand for and what makes Israel a country worth engaging with positively.
The writer is the CEO and founder of Vibe Israel.