Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The IDF's Facebook mutiny

Click here for Liel Leibovitz's fascinating and important story from The Tablet about free speech issues swirling through the Israel Defence Force around the use of social media. What happens when soldiers with access to social media conclude that one of their comrades has been treated unjustly, leading to thousands of Facebook "likes"? From the article:
Because the IDF, like most armies, bars its soldiers from expressing personal opinions on contentious matters while in uniform, they covered their faces with homemade signs. Most of these contained the exact same slogan: “I also stand with David [Adamov] the Nachlawi,” the latter being a reference to the Nachal, Adamov’s brigade. Within days, the number of active duty soldiers and officers standing with Adamov was in the thousands, and a Facebook page set up to aggregate all these outbursts of support registered more than 133,000 likes, a huge number by local standards. . . .
With the public din far from diminishing, the army’s top brass had no choice but to go on record and address the protest. Their comments only emphasized the extent to which the IDF, an army known for its impressive technological innovations, was unprepared for the simple challenge of disgruntled soldiers with smart phones. “There is no such thing as a Facebook protest,” said the IDF’s spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz. “Protest is not a military concept. The IDF commands its soldiers via direct contact, by commanders talking to their subordinates. It’s not right to address these issues on Facebook, even if a lot of people got carried away.” Face-to-face communication, Almoz added, “is the only thing we know how to do, and the only way that’s right.”
That, however, is not currently the case in the IDF. In 2011, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik, the army’s ombudsman, submitted his annual report to the Knesset, warning that the preponderance of electronic communications was causing chaos in all ranks. Instead of obeying the orders of their direct supervisors, Brik said, officers often bypassed the direct chain of command by texting or emailing with more senior officials, which sometimes resulted in a lack of clarity. “Because of the text message culture,” Brik warned, “we’ll lose the next war.”
Facebook’s surging popularity posed additional challenges to the traditional dictates without which no strong and disciplined military hierarchy is possible. From dancing the Harlem Shake to posting nude photographs, the IDF’s soldiers, like young people all around the world, see the social network as a repository for the amusing, the distinctive, the audacious, and the deeply personal; despite smatterings of punishment here and there, the army is discovering that it is more or less powerless against their eruptions of creative expression.
Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz
Officially, the IDF continues to walk a fine line, refraining from an all-out ban on social media on the one hand and insisting that soldiers and officers curb their enthusiasms online on the other. Speaking about the Adamov case days after it seized the front pages of Israel’s newspapers, the Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, had very little to say about what response, if any, the army had in mind. “We will examine the way in which [Adamov] was treated and we will learn the appropriate lessons,” Gantz said. “It is important to remember and unequivocally reiterate to our subordinates that Facebook is not a commander’s tool. It’s here, and it’s a fact, but it is not a replacement for, or the equivalent of, a conversation between commanders and their soldiers.” . . .
For now, the question remains how the IDF plans to react once the next social media crisis breaks out. Sources knowledgeable about the matter, speaking on background, admitted that there is currently no comprehensive plan being considered to regulate any upcoming outpouring of unauthorized opinions, images, etc. It is funny to imagine that, in the end, the Israeli army’s most formidable challengers may turn out to be not Hamas or Iran but Twitter and Facebook.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are subject to moderation and must be submitted under your real name. Anonymous comments will not be posted (even though the form seems to permit them).