Late at night on July 28, 2014, 16-year-old Farah Baker should have been asleep. Instead, the Gaza resident was cowering in fear as flares exploded around her, while sharing her terror in a flurry of tweets. “Flares in the sky all the time,” she tweeted, along with a photo showing a streak of light.
“I AM CRYING AND CAN’T STAND BOMBS SOUND! I’M ABOUT TO LOSE SENSE OF HEARING!” went another.
Later, she tweeted, “I can’t stop crying. I might die tonight.” That missive got over 15,000 retweets, some from journalists around the world.
Thanks to her prolific Twitter feed, Baker became an “influencer,” as her experience of the Israeli bombing of Gaza spread, enticing the media with her story and gaining followers to the Palestinian cause.
As British journalist David Patrikarakos shares in his new book, “War in 140 Characters: How Social Media is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century,” (Basic Books), out now, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have transformed the nature of propaganda and even war itself.
When a nation fights an opposition group, such as Israel vs. Hamas or the US vs. ISIS, the battle is fought on two fronts — on the ground and on social media.
While countries have superior firepower, the underdog status of the opposition groups gives them an advantage in gaining sympathy online, which in turn leads to more global support and even more soldiers and firepower in real life. Given social media’s reach, winning the information war may be even more important then winning the physical one.
“Information operations once supported battlefield operations on the ground. Now, increasingly, battlefield operations support the information operations on TV and in cyberspace,” Patrikarakos tells The Post.
The following three battles from his book examine the phenomenon, showing how social media has changed the nature of 21st century war.