Israeli can learn from its adversaries how to effectively harness new and old media.

GazaProtestFlotilla311 (photo credit: .)
(photo credit: .)
In his new book 'Free', Wired Magazine Editor Chris Anderson lays out the 'freemium' model of new media.
“It's now clear that practically everything Web technology touches starts down the path to gratis, at least as far as we consumers are concerned. Storage [unlimited email storage] now joins bandwidth (YouTube: free) and processing power (Google: free) in the race to the bottom. There's never been a more competitive market than the Internet, and every day the marginal cost of digital information comes closer to nothing,” Anderson writes.
How much money is it costing the organizers of the 'Free Gaza Flotilla' to get their message out across the world?
Answer: Almost nothing. Turkish TV placed a camera on one of the flotilla ships and is keeping it on all the time to livestream events on the boat, while constantly placing activists and 'journalists' in front of the camera to speak about their cause. Not very expensive.
There are other sites you can watch the events live, like http://www.witnessgaza.com/
This livestream is twittered, tweetdecked, Facebooked and YouTubed without any additional costs.
There are an increasing amount of YouTube videos made and disseminated, for free, by activists on the boats.
How much is it costing the activists on some of the Flotilla ships to Tweet updates, messages, and video from the boats?
Answer: Nothing. It's free. All they have to do is put a # sign before the word Flotilla and everyone that follows them on Twitter automatically sees it, and can re-tweet and reply to the original message if they so wish. What has transpired over the past two days is that #Flotilla has trended [risen in the ranks of Twitter's most popular, read trending, topics].
When flotilla activists felt there was a lack of coverage in the UK media of their story, they started twittering about it, and for a few hours, that became the discussion: why are the BBC and others not reporting on the mission to #BreakTheSiege by the #FreedomFlotilla?
After several hours of this sustained campaign, dozens of bloggers and twitterers claimed success, saying that UK news websites were starting to devote more attention to the story.
How much money is it costing the Israeli government to cancel all vacations for Navy personnel, have them all on standby, keep several destroyers ready to intercept the incoming flotilla, intercept the boats, set up a holding and transit facility at Ashdod to process all the activists brought there, keep several surveillance planes in the air to watch the flotilla, and put all the activists on planes and buy them tickets back to their countries of origin?
Answer: Millions of shekels.
Looking at #Flotilla topic gaining massive steam, it is clear how completely the activists on the flotilla and their friends across the world have managed to dominate the discussion about the 'Free Gaza Flotilla'. And they're enjoying it:
Lage2_48 writes: All freedom lovers: This is the time to unite All our efforts and start flooding all international media demanding safe passage 2 #flotilla
DenaShunra writes: From somewhere in the Mediterranean, this was the Voice of Peace - Abie's gone. It's up to us. #flotilla
RT @BrnEyeSuss We're trending #flotilla today to support amazing activists to break the siege in #Gaza. Join us
Amen! RT @polgrim #Flotilla has brought the world together - got to know so many nationalities. Bless you Twitter - you've built bridges!
Irevolt writes: I hope that all the passengers on-board the #Flotilla's put up a fight,making sure the IDF do not intercept their ships. #FreeGaza
avinunu writes: Signal from Turkish ship keeps going out. Jamming by Zionist pirate forces suspected. #flotilla #gaza
And one of the most re-tweeted messages: Ever wish you were alive when MLK or Ghandi inspired the world? Well you are witnessing it now #Gaza #Flotilla [via @TwiddleEastNews]
The trending topic rise organically and dominate the discussion as friends of friends and followers of those tweeting respond and amplify. It's so easy, you can try it yourself: #GazaBreakTheSiege; #GazaJustice; #IsraelApartheid and so on. What one won't see trending anywhere on Twitter now is #FreeGilad; #FreeGazaFromHamas; #FlotillaIsWrong; #CynicalFlotilla.
What you won't see is anyone in the anti-flotilla camp try 'hijack' the #flotilla topic to spread the message that this flotilla is perhaps less of a humanitarian mission to Gaza than a smart PR stunt to embarrass Israel and further chip away at its legitimacy.
But why is Twitter so important? Just ask the Iranian regime, who pulled out all the stops, and the generators, to try shut down the social networking site just this year when the popular uprising against Ahmadinejad's stolen re-election relied heavily on Twitter to organize rallies and smuggle out photos and videos of regime suppression.
The flotilla organizers are using Twitter and similar technologies to communicate amognst the various ships too in an effort to coordinate their plans, as well as captivate an international audience. This from WitnessGaza:
about 3 minutes ago We may loose the wireless. We didn't expect them now. We thought they will arrive at the morning, please stay in touch with the other boats
about 4 minutes ago From the IHH ship: people here put there life jackets, every body preparing here. We are in international waters
about 6 minutes ago From the IHH ship...3 boats are coming, not two, 3 israeli boats, we are 78 mile from Israel
about 7 minutes ago Two israeli ships coming toward us. they contact the ship asked who we are and disappeared, getting close to the ship we can see them
Social media tools and sites have evolved from just spaces to post messages to your friends, to powerful tools to organize activities, spread ideas and images, plans and counter-plans, information and misinformation. It is antithetical to centralized bodies and subverts their authority. It is, so far, proving to be the asymmetrical weapon of choice for grassroots activists and governments have very little power against it, and rightly so.
At the other end of the spectrum, Israeli officials, especially those in the Foreign Ministry, the Information Directorate of the Prime Minister's Office, Minister for Public Diplomacy Yuli Edelstein, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, and others, decry the lack of money and resources that Israel spends on its public diplomacy, on its hasbara. They point out that the Foreign Ministry's PR budget is smaller than the advertising budget for one of Israel's yogurt companies.
For instance, one of the ideas bandied about in recent years has been the establishment of an 'Israeli Al-Jazeera' to pump out Israel's message 24 hours a day on satellite TV. There have even been serious attempts to find the money to do this, with the finances mostly coming from Jewish philanthropists in the US. But these attempts have come to naught.
Other attempts to re-brand Israel away from its image as a land of conflict and occupation, such as creating 'Tel-Aviv beaches' in Vienna, Manhattan, and several other locations have failed abysmally. Each 'beach' cost the state over $100,000 – with the sand, the money, and their purpose scattered by the first wind.
It is becoming increasingly, painfully, clear that money is not the only issue. Setting aside the obvious issue of real diplomatic progress with the Palestinians and other Arab states and the effect that would have on Israel's image, the tiny, brainy and resourceful Jewish state is light years away from its adversaries on communicating its message. Money is not the answer: forward-looking and creative use of traditional and new media is of urgent importance.
How much coverage and attention did the 'counter flotilla' organized by Stand With Us generate across the web? SWU sent out a few little boats last week, a press release and some pictures, and that was that. There was no staying power to this valiant PR attempt because it didn't manage to garner popular support.
Was the fact that the Free Gaza Flotilla group refused to deliver a letter and package to Gilad Schalit properly leveraged across the new media? Why did nobody start a #DeliverThePackageToGilad twitter topic?
Wired's Anderson writes: “The Web is all about scale, finding ways to attract the most users for centralized resources, spreading those costs over larger and larger audiences as the technology gets more and more capable.”
While Israel is justifiably known as the world's “Start-up Nation” for it's technological dynamism and entrepreneurship, we are being indisputably beaten hands down on the PR uses of this new technology. We may be a start up nation, but we are bricks and mortar communicators. Our adversaries havecntrl-alt-deleted us.