Benjamin Wallace-Wells of New York notes that in contrast with previous Israeli-Palestinian clashes, there seems to be a lot more coverage of the Palestinian casualties of Operation Protective Edge.
This may be partly because of the stark differences in death tolls between the two sides and in particular the shockingly high number of Palestinian children who have been killed. But I suspect one big reason for the shift in tone has been social media.
Twitter was not even three years old when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, its last, and far bloodier, incursion into Gaza, and Twitter was certainly not the indispensible tool for gathering and disseminating news that it has since become.
Now, whether or not U.S. broadcast networks and newspapers feature images of what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls “telegenically dead Palestinians,” the images circulate. And with nearly all the journalists covering the conflict—reporters on the ground, editors assigning stories, and commentators around the world—plugged into social media as well, it’s hard to imagine their coverage is not in some way influenced by the images they’re seeing online.
Despite the Israeli government’s large social media campaign—in constrast to that of Hamas, whose accounts are routinely blocked—it has undoubtedly been losing the online information war. As the New York Times notes the “hashtag #GazaUnderAttack has been used in nearly 4 million Twitter posts, compared with 170,000 for #IsraelUnderFire.”
Mainstream outlets also seem to be responding to pro-Palestinian public backlash in a way they haven’t before. When NBC News Foreign Correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin was removed from Gaza shortly after reporting on the killing of four boys in an airstrike on a Gaza beach, he was reinstated four days later following a widespread social media backlash. Newspaper headlines downplaying Palestinian casualties have also been roundly criticized.
On the other hand, it’s not clear how much difference this will make. Support for Israel remains extremely high in the United States and is increasingly defined by party affiliation. The coverage may be becoming more balanced, but the audience may not have much interest in nuance.