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What happens when the military becomes the media?

Read that headline and you’d think I am taking about a military coupe taking control of the television and radio stations as the military seizes control of a foreign government.

But I am writing about something much closer to home. Our military becoming the media reporting from the front, as opposed to having reporters and journalists do so.

Impossible. Look at what the Israel Defense Force is doing. From Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) on Giga Om this week writing on Israel live blogging and tweeting an attack on Hamas:

For decades — perhaps even centuries — journalists have been the primary witnesses to and chroniclers of war, piecing together news reports from eyewitnesses and military briefings. But what if the armies or military forces who were engaged in a conflict took on the role of publishers themselves, distributing their own live reports while the battle was being fought? That idea is no longer science fiction: it became reality when the Israeli Defense Forces started live-blogging and live-tweeting an attack on Hamas guerrillas in the Gaza strip and uploading video of their rocket blasts to YouTube.

Ingram continues:

Social media, once thought of as a tool for bored nerds and marketing gurus, has taken on a whole new role it seems — one that could stand to change the face of modern warfare forever. As BuzzFeed notes in its round-up of Twitter posts from the Israeli army (a sentence I never would have imagined typing even a few years ago), the IDF actually warned Hamas guerillas not to show themselves on the Gaza strip or risk being killed in the attacks that began Wednesday morning, and the official Hamas account responded:

IDF Israel Defense Forces

IDF went on to put up YouTube footage of attacks and to regularly update the below blog. israeli IDF Live blog When I saw the IDF using social media I thought wow, look at the continuing power of social media People closest to the action providing near instantaneous coverage.

My second reaction was wow, this is dangerous stuff. The government usurping the power of the press. After all, the First Amendment does provide for freedom of the press in this country for a reason.

I am not saying that our military or Israel’s military, in this case, would do anything sinister to provide biased coverage — though governments, including ours, have been known to do so.

However it’s going to be a fact of life that the military is going to be out in front of traditional media and journalists in reporting on military action.

  • Social media puts the power of reporting in the hands of military personal. We didn’t have blogs, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook only a few years ago. Laptops, tablets, smartphones, and small video cameras, all available in war zones, can be used to report onto these social media by military personal.
  • Military personal are by there very nature where all the action is. Journalists need clearance, can not be everywhere (cockpit of fighter jet), and will be held back from certain places because of danger.
  • Traditional mass media is shrinking. With the advent of the Internet and social media, there are fewer newspapers, fewer journalists, and less mainstream coverage. More people are turning to social media for there news and information. CNN, Fox, and newspaper sites are not looked to by as many people for breaking news. Many people see social media as breaking news faster and more reliably.

I agree with Jim Roberts (@nytjim), Assistant Managing Editor of the New York Times, who, in a Twitter exchange with Ingram, said it feels like a watershed moment. Israeli Military Social Media It was a few years ago when I was sitting in a coffee shop exchanging Tweets with a Palestinian while the West Bank was under attack. I had done an advanced search on Twitter for tweets coming from within 25 miles of Gaza City. To get the Israeli’s view, I also listened to tweets from Tel Aviv.

The Palestinian was providing me first hand information, including pictures, during the attacks. I was blown away by the power of social media. I saw only positive. The positive power was only confirmed by the use of social media in the Arab Spring. Never did I see the current issue arising.

I have confidence that with the combined power of technology, our Bill of Rights, and our courts that we’ll sort out this burgeoning ‘power of the press’ issue. It is an interesting one though.

Please don’t view my post as taking sides in this current war, I wish only peace for all.