Cyebrtech Global TLV | 8200 Alumni Association: Social Media Reshaping War

Why is Israel on the losing side of the social media war? How can issues of privacy be addressed during times of crisis? And how can civil society help the military? A special discussion tries to address these questions – and more

Photo: Gilad Kavalerchik

A unique panel bringing together some of the brightest minds that served in the IDF’s elite Unit 8200 took place at Cybertech Global Tel Aviv this afternoon (Monday). Moderated by the Managing Director of 8200 Impact, Leehe Friedman, the panel discussed the various ways social media can reshape war – with an emphasis on Israel’s current Swords of Iron War.

The panel’s participants were Prof. Karine Nahon, Head of Data, Government and Democracy Program, Reichman University; Inbal Karo, a data strategy expert; Chen Reuveni, the manager of 8200 Mideast Community; and Jonathan Jacobi, a project manager officer and 8200 Graduate

Karin Nahone: “We established the Missing Person’s War Room immediately following October 7th, finding ourselves in a situation where we didn’t have any information. We turned to social media to start gathering a collage that would help us understand what was happening to the people on the ground – who was kidnapped, wounded, left behind, killed…

“OSINT gives us a lot of information – but there are also difficult ethical questions concerning privacy and personal information. We received hundreds of thousands of videos and texts. As we were in an emergency, we put aside the questions of privacy. I am the founder of the Privacy Israel NGO – and found myself breaching everything I believed in due to this state of emergency.

“Social media is in essence information flow, interactions with people – people give you the best real-time information.  Social media helped us build the map we needed.

Chen Reuveni: “Social media is a virtual battlefield for both sides. More and more people are engaged with social media platforms and are also consuming their news this way. Hamas understands this and has become a social media expert. Its media wing was a critical part of its strategy during the war, using social media for different purposes and three main target audiences: the Israeli public, the international community, and the Arab world – specifically the Palestinians.

“Hamas uses social media as psychological warfare, aimed at diving the Israeli public. Another main objective is highlighting the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip – also using AI for manipulation, fake images intended at diverting the attention from Hamas’ atrocities to what Israel is doing. For example – an AI-generated image of two children in a tent. A third objective is an incitement to violence, mobilizing Palestinians to carry out terror attacks. Social media is a disruptive tool, used by Hamas to deliver its messages, and can change the situation on the ground.

Inbal Karo: “Social media shaped this war in that many more people became engaged, on both sides. People are now direct players as information appears directly in their feeds – both real and fake, as targets and what they want to consume.

 “Another aspect is that many people felt like there was a lot they could do. Lots of tech companies, for example, gave their office space, technologies, platforms – anything that could help. Part of the work was trying to get all of this volunteering, this civilian power that wanted to do stuff.”

“I feel that civilian society will stay ahead of the military for a while, and the intelligence community needs to figure out how it can organize and utilize this.”

Jonathan Jacobi: “Social media is an arms race: Israeli kids get exposed to cutting-edge technology from a very young age. We can talk about this as a weapon – hacking groups and hacktivists are capable of making mass destruction.

“Israel is always on the losing end of the social media war because it’s not only about quality but also about quantity. Also, when we talk about the Palestinian narrative it is simpler, more suitable for social media platforms – users have a very short attention span and the Palestinians know how to deliver short, precise messages. Israel is completely different, providing historical context and lengthy explanations, something that isn’t suitable for social media.

What should we learn from this? Just do what they’re doing: use simple and concise messages, focus on the human aspect, tell the stories of the 133 hostages in Gaza, and use online influencers.

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