Avital Leibovich’s business card contains all the usual information: name, rank (lieutenant colonel), position. She is head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Interactive Media Branch, and in addition to listing her phone numbers and email address, the card also includes some less traditional data: her Twitter address and Facebook page.
Working out of a modest office building in Tel Aviv, Leibovich and her team of 30 soldiers are responsible not only for the social network presence of Israel’s armed forces — the IDF — but also for making sure that it makes a good impression.
“We are the only army in the world that puts this much effort into an Internet media offensive,” she says with pride. Several hundred postings in six languages are made to nearly all social networks and a blog every month.
The endeavor began small during the Gaza War in late December 2008 when a conscript had the idea of making some filmed content available to the media on YouTube. It was a great success, and not just with journalists.
Today, everything from aerial shots of targeted killings to a short introduction in English to Krav Maga (a self-defense system developed in Israeli based on martial arts) can be found on YouTube. When an Israeli F-16 jet fighter with a technical defect crashed, it was only a matter of hours before video of the dramatic IDF rescue of the pilot and navigator was posted.
Viewer figures for some videos are out there for all to see. The short clip showing how militant Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari was killed in an Israeli air attack on his car was viewed nearly five million times. But even unspectacular videos, like one sending messages of goodwill to those in the Arab world observing Ramadan, can appeal to large numbers of viewers, says Leibovich.
So far, there are pages and channels in Hebrew, English, French, Russian, Spanish and Arabic, she explains. And postings on each one are different. New immigrants to Israel are usually in charge of these not only because they speak the language of the target group but because of their intuitive understanding of their native culture and therefore the approach to take when presenting content.
But these postings don’t come at the expense of news and political coverage. When rockets from Gaza hit the southern part of the country, the news was on Twitter in nearly real time. The number of relief trucks admitted to the Gaza strip every month is presented as an infographic, and just recently a new webpage with information about the history, ideology and terrorist activities of Hezbollah were posted.
Using the example of a village in southern Lebanon, they show how Hezbollah deliberately stockpiles weapons near schools and medical facilities. Programmers and layout designers spent over six months on the project.