In an email to The Atlantic Friday, one close observer of Israeli media reported seeing very specific references
to the location of one rocket attack that was later scrubbed:
At 4:59 p.m. local time, NRG (the Maariv website) posted a breaking news update that stated the precise location of the rocket that hit Rishon LeZion -- I
mean, down to the street name (I'm talking about the one in Rishon). Within minutes, though (5:04 p.m., I believe), it was changed to "somewhere in the
Rishon LeZion area" and a few minutes later (5:22 p.m.) they posted another update stating that the rocket had not yet been found. They later posted
updates confirming that a rocket hit in the area, but never did say -- or even hint -- where. Makes you wonder who made the call to change it.
At one level, Tabib's illustrated message recalls that old World War II poster exhorting Allied civilians to silence -- or risk being responsible for a
German U-boat's lucky shot. But Tabib's poster is more than a public service announcement. It's evidence for a new way of thinking about social media as a
"Dual-use" products are those can serve both peaceful and military ends. Consider civil nuclear programs: When a country uses nuclear technology
peacefully, it produces tremendous amounts of clean energy that helps industry and society flourish. But in the wrong hands, civil nuclear reactors also
enable the secret construction of nuclear weapons.
Social media, it turns out, might be a lot like that. For all the increasingly familiar ways in which social media can be empowering, it's, like other technologies, not without its darker applications. Autocratic regimes, e.g., can use it to bait and hunt down dissidents; and armed groups, not just civilians, can find tactical uses. Digital tools like Twitter and Facebook aren't only
valuable as a news service or as a way to coordinate emergency response or as a catalyst for collective action; used differently, they have the potential
to make armies more deadly.
It's unclear to what extent Israelis -- or news outlets, for that matter -- are heeding Tabib's warning.
"People on Twitter are definitely posting locations of rockets when they know them or hear anything," Sharon Goldtzvik, an American whose husband Yonathan
was born in Jerusalem, told me. "And again, I think the idea that it poses a risk is pretty absurd since the media is all over it anyway."
For some Israelis, the urgency to report, and to coordinate medical or other aid, trumps the danger of giving Hamas targeting information it may not find
very useful anyway. The group's rockets are so inaccurate, any sighting adjustment still carries the baseline risk of missing by wide margin. And if it
truly needed spotters, couldn't Hamas employ its own?
The use of social media as a command-and-control instrument may not be a key factor in this war. But that shouldn't keep us from recognizing the technology
as a potential C2 tool for future wars.