Framing The Debate About #Gaza on Twitter

Which are the best words to describe the debate about the latest Israeli-Palestinian war on Twitter in only 140 characters? And who decided to use #gaza?

Twitter #Gaza #Israel Hash Tags

Twitter #Gaza #Israel Hash Tags

Twitter seems to have become a new virtual front in the latest conflict between Palestinians and Israelis and is alight with 140 character tweets in several languages about the latest conflict on the Gaza Strip.

Israel has opened its first official Israeli government Twitter account via the Israeli Consulate in New York and is holding an innovative Twitter press conference as I write, allowing people to tweet their questions to an Israeli Consulate representative.

But back to our point: people on Twitter sometimes use hash tags (a hash # symbol followed by a keyword) to identify a particular topic, like #gaza or #israel.

I’ve never seen the point of hash tags – searching for the word without the # symbol works much better – but some people are worried that the choice of certain hash tags might be framing the debate in the wrong way (my emphasis):

The problem with tags are that they’re framing the events. #gaza ignores the other aspects of the story, Now, I’m not saying that Gaza isn’t a major part, but what about last 8 years bombing of Israeli towns by rockets?

What about the city of Sderot where kids can’t be safe not only during military operations, but NEVER?

And the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit? Where are #sderot or #giladshalit?

Framing a debate is when you choose certain words to talk about the topic instead of certain other words, making your listeners or opponents think of or approach the subject from an angle they perhaps don’t want to.

This works in a similar same way as when someone tells you: “Don’t imagine an elephant.” It’s then impossible not to think about an elephant.

Framing, a term used in media studies, sociology and psychology, refers to the social construction of a social phenomenon by mass media sources or specific political or social movements or organizations.

It is an inevitable process of selective influence over the individual’s perception of the meanings attributed to words or phrases.

A frame defines the packaging of an element of rhetoric in such a way as to encourage certain interpretations and to discourage others.

People on Twitter seem to be using the following hash tags:

And having a quick think, what about:

  • #palestine
  • #hamas
  • #israelitanks
  • #israelibombs
  • #hamasrockets
  • #israelisoldiers
  • #gazastrikes
  • #idf
  • #intifada

Would you choose a different one? And how do you think choosing #gaza instead of #israel might affect your perception of what’s going on?

  • Luke Spear

    Thanks for the post, Matt, good food for thought.

    I think the hash tag is less important than being aware of who is issuing the tweets themselves.

    To my mind it's ultimately more important to bear in mind the political objectives of the writer and so keep a balanced view of the various subjects being discussed. The hash tag being a representation of these political standpoints, as you so rightly point out, it helps us to remain more objective when weighing up the different sides of the story if the tag itself explicitly states the viewpoint of the tweet source.

  • Matthew Bennett

    Hi Luke, I thought it was curious that #gaza was used, appeared and remained on Twitter trends (instead of #israel) and an Israeli related hash tag – #askisrael – only appeared after the Israelis started their publicity stunt.

    As far as I know, no-one forces people to use hash tags, so the fact that (hundreds? thousands?) of Twitter users chose #gaza says something.

  • Gideon Lichfield

    It's not surprising. There's fighting going on in #gaza right now. There have been rockets falling on #sderot for eight years. There's been #israel-#palestinian fighting for decades, #israel-#hamas fighting for years, etc. Using #gaza isn't deliberate framing, just the most obvious time-sensitive tag. More people will search for #gaza than for #askisrael or anything else. Plus it's short. And anyway, if you're doing a search by a particular hashtag, then you've already set your own frame. Clearly it doesn't suit some people's political agendas, but the hashtag framing effect is minor compared with the frames that are set by the media or people's own existing prejudices.

  • tonyknuckles

    Not really getting the whole hashtag debate over at the twitter. #TCOT seems to rock on for me. And by the way let Isreal defend itself with all the tools it has in its arsenal IMVHO.