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USJ – Beirut / Lebanon

The governments and the massive communication weapon named Web 2.0


The governments and the weapon of massive communication named Web 2.0

this article has been published by I loubnan:

Mobile phones converted into computers, new styles of mobilization, taking the floor, Tweets, social networks, blogs, birth of new forms of media and new methods to practice journalism, etc… The Israeli operation against the “humanitarian flotilla” on Monday May 31st 2010 recalls what is no longer a scoop: today, our relation with communication and information is evolving, it is permanent, “hybrid” with the multiplicity of the supports and sprawling with their omnipresence. However, have the governments well included this reality in their communication system… or, by any chance, into their propaganda system?
Monday morning May 31st. Almost at the same exact time, internet users were informed of the murderous assault led by Tsahal armed commando on humanitarian activists with no big defense. Did the Hebrew state anticipate that Mavi Marmara would be transformed into a weapon of “massive communication” against its operation and politics, Few weeks after the case, a lot less dramatic, of Israeli soldiers “Facebook friend”, in truth, fruit of a possible Hezbollah “spying 2.0” strategy?Right after the Tsahal assault on the humanitarian flotilla on its way to Gaza, communiqués started to flow from the Israeli army to explain and justify its act. But this strategy of classic communication faced raging information and images from journalists and activists who succeeded in sending videos of the ship before any communication was cut. Almost immediately, these images invaded the web, the screens of the computers and those of the mobile phones of the internet users. When the Israeli army reacted, a whole global community of internet users had already seen the images, even before being broadcast later by televisions (especially Al Jazeera which had a special envoy on board of the Turkish ship).

For Rita Chemaly, a researcher in the Modern Arab World Study Centre, “each government must work on transforming the information published by social websites into a real communicational arsenal in order to restore its image and to control it in a precise way”. With several million subscribers ( for example, Facebook gathered in December 2009, 400 million users) social websites, mailing lists and web-communication in general, cannot but have a serious impact on the current events. Indeed, the information’s speed of circulation has accelerated exceptionally these several years, which had a considerable impact on the governmental communication strategies. For instance, during all his presidential campaign, Obama used Flickr or even a personalized mailing system to “personally” inform his supporters and the media. In 2009 as well, the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs organized webs of volunteers to interfere on websites in Israel’s favor , comment on current events, social websites and forums in favor of the operation Cast Lead in Gaza (The Guardian talked then about “propaganda 2.0” and the Israeli newspapers Post and Haaretz evoked an “army of bloggers”). Today, these communication operations are grouped under the term “hasbara” (“clarification” or “explanation” in Hebrew).

Propaganda, control and war of images
Since always, communication’s aim was to improve, discredit and modify someone’s image, it sometimes even succeeded in doing just that. So, where does it stand today, when the information circulates even faster, and with more images, sounds and words? Struggle for the control of the information passes henceforth through new canals; power struggles become digital and the communication battle reaches its peak. So now, it’s time to understand how the research motors work, the hierarchy of the websites and the accessible links, real communication “web-weapons”. Studies on “googlehierarchy” are increasing, but who is using them and how? According to studies carried out by CEMAM and Rita Chemaly, “in Lebanon, information concerning the use of the web in this field, come from non-governmental activists, independent bloggers (active, passive or engaged) residing or non-residing in the country. But a policy of virtual communication was not adopted. While, since 2006 in Israel, governmental agencies have been working on holding back and mastering their image on the web” affirms Rita Chemaly, and most precisely on Facebook, as the journalist Lisa Goldman recalls on her blog which analyses the importance that Israel gives to its image on the web.The follow-up of the events on Twitter and Facebook has shown an international mobilization of wide span in supporting the flotilla, to the movement of peace in the Middle East. They have broadcast the solidarity operations carried out actually in many countries, such as marches organized in Lebanon, France, Turkey, Egypt, United States, Canada, etc. The watchwords of adhesion floated instantly through social websites, mails evidently and sms. But finally, nothing new. As recalls Yves Gonzalez-Quijano (associated researcher in the Group of Research and Studies on the Mediterranean and the Middle East- Lyon 2), we have already witnessed such mobilization for other events. According to him, this is nothing but propaganda”, an “old game” in the use of information control mechanisms. The precise list and the names of people killed were still not broadcast four days after the incident. We cannot really talk about a revolution.”
Everyone or almost everyone knows everything, immediately. Then what?
If May 31st event recalls the possibility given by the web to organize itself, to mobilize quickly and cheaply, it raises, of course, the question of images manipulation by different publishers, and an interrogation as well: what are the aftereffects of these new media, these new information actors on the international political life? At the end of day, we are all, almost immediately, aware of the events, but concretely, does it make a difference?June 8 1972, photographer Nick Ut Cong Huynh was on his way to Tran Bang village, North Vietnam. While everything indicated that there were no North-Vietnamese left in the village, the South-Vietnamese army nevertheless decided to bomb the village by napalm. Straight after the attack, the “privileged” witnesses saw some survivors escaping and running towards them, most of whom severely burned. Kim Phuc, a little girl, is naked because she got rid of her burning clothes. All were dreadfully yelling. The Vietnamese photojournalist took his camera and immortalized the moment which would give him the Pulitzer 1973.

The public opinion and the American politics were changing, something was happening. Are images, so numerous today, still capable of getting a popular burst which would force the decision-makers of the politics’ sphere to change things?

Currently, after the July 2006 war and its excess already broadcast by bloggers, the operation Cast Lead in Gaza, then today this assault on the humanitarian ships, we can wonder if this stream of info will have an impact on the decision-makers of the politics’ sphere and the global diplomacy. Many political scientists have already affirmed that, according to them, the international relations with Israel will not change after the “flotilla case”.

Would the massive flow of images, which we pass through every day, make them lose their power? Maybe we have all zapped already to see something else.

ARTICLE published in I loubnan info.
Interview held by Francois Huguet

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