AlJazeera’s Twitter Feed in Gaza, Part I

AlJazeera, the popular Qatari news network, has always inspired strong reactions. Some accuse it of acting as a lightning rod for anti-American sentiment; others praise it as the only editorially independent news source in the Middle East. Whatever you think, AlJazeera has scooped the Gaza crisis from the inside using innovative social media like YouTube and Twitter.

After the mainstream media picked up and amplified pictures of the destructive invasion of Lebanon in 2006, Israeli military planners have been particularly careful to shutter the press from the current Gaza war zone. Most of the foreign journalists covering the story are marooned at the Israeli enforced security cordon with binoculars. Wading through Israel’s Public Affairs version of the war, Hamas’ periodic statements of defiance and sporadic reports from international aid agencies has complicated accurate reporting.

AlJazeera, however, already had six reporters in Gaza when the conflict began. Now, those reporters are providing some of the only on-the-ground footage, images and details of the conflict available. The information is passing from reporters to Doha, and from there across a broad range of social media. By correlating GPS coordinates with their reports, AlJazeera has even constructed a map of the war zone with statistics and interactive features.

Getting news out of Gaza is hard enough when much major infrastructure in the poorly wired region has been destroyed by the Israeli military. Using cellphones and mobile upload technology, however, AlJazeera has been able to tweet updates to a feed which already has more than 5,000 official followers. In turn, those subscribers are passing on the stories in a sort of frenzied multiplier effect.

Israel, too, has seen the potential in a micro-blogging “battle for hearts and minds.” It is now running its own government Twitter feed, even staging a Twitter conference, complete with a Q&A.

Since the beginning of this war, I have wondered whether the same twitter/citizen journalism used for information sharing during the recent Mumbai attacks would translate to the technologically depressed Gaza Strip. In highly tech literate Mumbai, average citizens caught in the cross fire could contribute instantly to collective information sharing.

By contrast, Gaza, more heavily bombarded and less internet friendly, still needs some sort of central network to disseminate news stories, but uniquely (and perhaps specifically because of the constraints which the war has placed on traditional reporting) a major network like AlJazeera is finding itself more and more using the tools of citizen journalists. This will have, I think, a definite effect on the way a war is reported, on which euphemisms are thrown around and on what civilian casualties really mean.

(To be continued…)

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4 Responses to “AlJazeera’s Twitter Feed in Gaza, Part I”

  1. » AlJazeera’s Twitter Feed in Gaza, Part II I&D Blog Says:

    […] I began to suggest in my last post, this development has unique implications for the way in which we receive, process and react to […]

  2. Richard | Mobile Broadband Says:

    The internet – and mobile broadband technologies are of key importance for destructed infrastructures, or upcoming democracies. Mobile broadband speeds are already getting over 300mbps and the range is getting extended over time.

    Soon Africa will have the same speeds the Swedes currently have to their homes 😉

  3. Internet & Democracy Blog » Moldovan Youth Organize Protests With Twitter Says:

    […] helped rally protesters, though, it has also given us — as during the Mumbai bombings or the war in Gaza — a glimpse of reality on the ground. Visceral, real micro-news before the MSM or anyone else […]

  4. g star jeans Says:

    It’s a tribute to the social media hype in todays society really.

    Goverments are posting videos on youtube (more recently Gordon Brown) using twitter, the goverments number 10 blog and in most cases it isn’t doing them any favours.