The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Is Hamas winning the Twitter war?

Palestinians extinguish a fire after Israeli air strikes in Gaza (Reuters)

Today, Israel launched a military strike on Hamas in the Gaza Strip – and a complimentary social media campaign, which has chronicled much of the "Pillar of Defense" operation with polished video and photos. But despite the Israeli Defense Force’s calculated deployment on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr (plus a blog and game platform that awards points for “spread[ing] IDF content”), Israel might not actually be winning the Twitter war. By one metric, it's losing 150 to one.

As the terms “Gaza” and “Hamas” trended globally, Twitter users staked out hashtags for their respective causes. On the Israeli side: #PillarofDefense, the name of the latest military operation, which appears to have been started by the IDF account. For the Palestinians, if not necessarily for Hamas: #GazaUnderAttack, #Gazzeateşaltında (Turkish for the same) and several other foreign-language derivatives. As of 5 p.m., the IDF's tag had received 808 mentions, while the #GazaUnderAttack derivations had around 120,000.

Given the scale of Israel’s social media operation, that's an awfully small piece of the audience. The IDF made Pillar of Defense a uniquely social-oriented operation, announcing it with a tweet rather than a traditional press conference.

Since then, the account @IDFSpokesperson has kept up a day-long stream of ultra-shareable posts, with more videos, graphics and calls for retweet than a social media best-practice class. Between videos of rocket strikes and taunts to Hamas, the IDF urged followers to repost images like their red-tinged graphic of deceased Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari, which bears the stamp “eliminated” in capital letters. Followers retweeted that photo nearly 600 times; another, bearing the caption “RT if you think #Israel has the right to defend itself,” has been shared more than 1,700 times.

On the Hamas account, meanwhile, there are no fancy graphics, no optimized tweets and precious few people listening. @AlqassamBrigade has only 4,000 followers to @IDFSpokesperson’s roughly 71,000.

Still, Gaza's cause is sounding louder, and further, than the IDF's – a strong indication of the grassroots movement behind it. In the Gaza Strip, Israel’s financial and technological superiority will surely prove decisive. But Twitter users seem more apt to discuss the unfolding violence using the #GazaUnderAttack hashtags that, while not exclusively antagonistic to the strikes, at least suggest the idea of Gaza as a victim in the violence. That's probably not the social discussion that the IDF's team was hoping for, but it's what they're getting, suggesting that even the flashy social media campaign can't turn global opinion on the strikes.