The Jerusalem Post
How should Israel improve its digital consciousness?
Lessons from Operation Guardian of the Walls
The latest round of fighting in Operation Guardian of the Walls raised the need to rethink Israel’s digital consciousness during routine times. At the forefront of digital consciousness are personal stories of ordinary people and children.
Using personal stories from war zones in Israel, Gaza, Syria and other parts of the world is nothing new. It was done by Anne Frank with her personal diary in the Holocaust; by the 11-year-old Syrian girl Bana al-Abed, who shared her personal war story through a Twitter account; and recently, by Israeli children with stories about their life experience under missile fire during operation Guardian of the Walls.
Psychological studies have found that the power of images, videos and personal stories displayed during wars and military operations provoke a strong emotional response of empathy and compassion. These feelings stem from the exposure to the private life of the children and other people involved. This is in comparison to the apathy people may feel when they are presented with statistics on numbers of people killed and buildings destroyed during fighting.
The use of personal stories, especially of children, during wars and other military operations, evokes greater identification and authenticity, as the stories are perceived as reflecting reality as it is, without filters. In some cases, children even become a type of mediator or activist in wars, influencing public opinion and the media. This is in contrast to the messages conveyed by formal speakers of the state who are perceived as biased due to their official roles.
However, alongside the importance of using personal stories, are a growing number of questions. As for the ethics, is the inclusion of children in war stories justified in order to influence public opinion? Does live broadcasts from private houses that have been hit by missiles justify the invasion of the homeowner’s privacy?
In addition, although personal stories may evoke a lot of emotion and identification, they might also present a partial, fragmented reality, emphasizing experiences and feelings instead of wider explanations of the conflict. This can make it difficult for audiences that are not involved in the situation to understand it in context. This can also contribute to the distribution of fake news.
There are a number of possible solutions. For example, studies in persuasion have found that two-sided messages are received better than one-sided ones. In this way, the wider circumstances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be incorporated into personal stories, as Israelis and Palestinians both face a common threat: the Hamas terrorist regime.
Similarly, instead of emphasizing the stories of suffering on either side, the main story should be the joint struggle of both sides in their confrontations with Hamas, which uses its people as human shields, firing rockets
from population centers among schools, hospitals and other public institutions.
Finally, personal stories must emphasize that Israel’s struggle is part of the international war in
terrorism that threatens Europe, the United States and other countries around the world.
Dr. Erga Atad is a lecturer and researcher in persuasion and messaging design at IDC Herzliya.