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TikTok is the IDF’s new battleground

The IDF is waging a digital war. Credit: TikTok

December 21, 2023 - 7:00am

As public sympathy for the people of Gaza rises, the Israeli Defense Forces is using TikTok in an effort to recapture international goodwill. Its content defends Israeli military actions, criticises Hamas, and portrays the IDF as a humanitarian force against terrorism. TikTok has been flooded with pro-Palestine content since the Hamas attacks on 7 October but the IDF, which joined the platform in 2020, is attempting to change that dynamic. 

The distinct feature of the IDF’s TikTok output, compared to the platform’s pro-Palestine content, is the portrayal of women. Numerous videos include photogenic female soldiers giving updates on the conflict, ranging from lessons on how to code to more provocative posts about Hamas.

Beyond videos published directly by the IDF social media pages, TikTok also contains many clips posted by female IDF soldiers’ personal accounts. Some of these videos play on the same themes of female empowerment and defend Israel’s military actions, pointing to the 7 October attacks and accusing Hamas of targeting civilians. There’s even a social media marketing agency for attractive young IDF veterans focused on guns and militarism.  

“The IDF is unique in the sense that women are called up as conscripts as well as men,” war correspondent David Patrikarakos told UnHerd. “You’re also operating against an enemy that is avowedly misogynistic. In terms of putting out content, for want of a better word, it’s always nice to have young telegenic females and indeed males to help your cause. It’s also a way of differentiating yourself from your enemy in the eyes of the watching world.”

In this regard, the IDF bears similarities to Ukraine’s social media output following the Russian invasion in February 2022. Ukraine also used attractive young women in its online videos to draw attention to the war effort while congratulating female soldiers on their bravery and achievements. 

TikTok content from Palestinians also showcases women, but in a different context. Videos coming out of Gaza tend to emphasise the suffering and victimhood women experience as a result of the war, leaning less on feminist tropes of empowerment when compared to pro-Israel content. 

Patrikarakos told UnHerd that, despite Israel’s massive military advantage over Hamas, the country still has to win over public opinion both at home and abroad. The IDF’s most important audience is the Israeli public, though maintaining support from key allies is also crucial. 

“All states have to fight what you might call a discursive or political battle to justify their wars,” Patrikarakos said. “The IDF has a lot of external pressure coming from the United States […] One of the reasons that they’re going in so heavy with the IDF is they need nine months to actually do the job. They don’t have nine months, because essentially world opinion won’t tolerate it. No country can operate in a vacuum.”

There has been widespread concern in recent months about the dominance of pro-Palestine content on TikTok, but the platform has denied tinkering with the algorithm to achieve this end. Rather, TikTok argues, the app is youth-dominated, and young people are more sympathetic to Palestine — if opinion on the platform is skewed, it’s a reflection of its young user base. 

The challenge for Israel going forward will be to maintain sufficient international support in the coming months to complete its aims in Gaza, a project in which TikTok is just one strategy. But the country faces a paradox, in which military victories are inversely related to popular opinion successes. 

“The more that Israel succeeds and destroys Hamas within Gaza, the more that it loses online. The more Hamas loses on the ground, the more it wins online,” Patrikarakos said. “The more it loses militarily, the more it wins politically.”


is UnHerd’s US correspondent.

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Judy Englander
Judy Englander
6 months ago

The last paragraph contains an irony I’ve observed to be true. For several decades when the Jewish state wins its wars, a ton of opprobrium falls upon it. It’s as if vulnerable and suffering Jews are acceptable but military, winning Jews are not.

A D Kent
A D Kent
6 months ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

How exactly is Israel ‘winning’ in Gaza right now? How much of Hamas have they destroyed? How many eager recruits for Hamas have they produced there or in the wider ME do you think? How long would these winners last without the constant top-ups from the US?

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
6 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

How long would Hamas last without constant top-ups from Iran?

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
6 months ago

The point ADK is making is that there are no winners in this conflict.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
6 months ago

Or from many deluded Western countries.

Pedro the Exile
Pedro the Exile
6 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

The proposition that the current war is breeding a new generation of Hamas jihadis is often stated as a one sided gain and a given truth.Other than the fact that the current demolition of Gaza might actually make the inhabitants think a bit more expansively about their current “Government” ,it always ignores the counterbalance which is that 7/10 has united Israel & the Jewish diaspora like no other event this century.
So whilst they might not be”winning”-whatever that means-I would hesitate before assuming a win is a loss and as others have stated-how long would any of the proxy Islamists last without Iranian funding.At least Israel has built up a $500billion economy rather than a netwrk of tunnels an dis less dependent on external help..

Last edited 6 months ago by Pedro the Exile
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
6 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

“How exactly is Israel ‘winning’ in Gaza right now?”
IDF has taken control of most of North Gaza, including Gaza City. As a result, of the 13,000 rockets fired by Hamas since Oct 7, over 11,000 were fired in the first week of war. An 80% reduction of rocket fire is a win.
In addition, Gaza City was the most important center for Hamas in Gaza. Now “Palestine Square” there has an Israeli flag and a menorah.
Who is not winning in Gaza right now? Whoever is bleating incessantly for a ceasefire.
Big win IDF and it will get bigger once Khan Younis is fully taken.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
6 months ago

“ There has been widespread concern in recent months about the dominance of pro-Palestine content on TikTok, but the platform has denied tinkering with the algorithm to achieve this end. ”
Yeah, right. They’ll be tinkering as much as the CCP tells them to. Addling the minds of Western youth is TikTok’s core mission.

Johan Grönwall
Johan Grönwall
6 months ago

”Rather, TikTok argues, the app is youth-dominated, and young people are more sympathetic to Palestine
”

A circular argument. Young people favour Palestine because TikTok and the CCP made them do it.

anthony henderson
anthony henderson
6 months ago

Apart from the photogenic female soldiers Israel should be using some black Ethiopian Jews to help their cause, it might also help dispel the myth that Israel is a ‘white’ country.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
6 months ago

Have a look at the preponderance of female support for Hamas in the protests. See who tears down the hostage posters. More young progressive women are donning keffiyehs (see Harvard) while others are converting to Islam.
I am not sure if TikTok is encouraging this behavior or simply trying to keep up with the trend.
If you want to see something cool, see the videos of the Israeli tank girls (or young women) who fought off Hamas on 7 October. They seem both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
6 months ago

Everyone assumes that Israel needs our approval or somehow they aren’t winning. The fact that large parts of Gaza are rubble will likely preclude Hamas from trying this again. Even the hate addled citizens of Gaza have limits to what they will support when it impacts them like this. This will likely be followed by a long occupation.

A D Kent
A D Kent
6 months ago

I’ll ignore the final paragraph that accepts the (at best dubious) proposition that the Israeli bombing of Gaza is either designed to or ever could ‘destroy Hamas’ and will focus on the ‘socials’ aspect.

 This piece seems to suggest that the IDF and Israelis are somehow amateurs in all of this. That they’re having to get to grips with this new world of Social Media and it’s many manipulations and biases. In short it’s assuming that Hasbara isn’t actually a thing and hasn’t been a thing for many years – and consquently it is rather wide of the mark.

As for the portrayal of the sexes by the ‘sides’ I’d suggest the ratios are more to do with a perpetrator and victim distinction than it is of a socially biased portrayal You’ll see this in the propaganda we see from our Western ‘interventions’ or any wars involving our official enemies (see Ukraine) – when it’s our side the coverage is heavily skewed towards the actions taken by the good-guys and not their results – so it’s lots of images of amissiles firing, aircraft on runways (almost always in silhouette) and plenty of the kind of ‘our boys’ & ‘our girls’ stuff the IDF are now parping out themselves. When it’s one of our official friends getting attacked the images tend to include more of the suffering.

The IDF used what they could of their images they had of their victims from October 7th – notably in their (still restricted) 40 minute video that Giles Fraser got to see, but are hampered in this conflict by the fact that that was mostly all they had. Beyond that they are also hanpered by the chance (IMO absolute certainty) that releasing too much of their footage will lead to too many difficult questions like how did Hamas do that with their small arms, what put those large bullet holes in the roofs of those cars and why was that tank shelling that house when they knew it probably contained Israelis?  

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
6 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Your objection seems not so much that Israelis are defending themselves, but that they’re quite good at it. Wonder why ….?

A D Kent
A D Kent
6 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

My objection to the piece is as I stated in my comment.

FWIW my objection to the situation is Gaza is that the maximalist claims of horror from the IDF & Israelis are by no means proven and there’s every reason (from their track record, their failure to properly investigate and emerging evidence) to doubt them.

As to whether their mass murder in Gaza will do anything to ‘defend’ them in anything other than the short term I think that’s highly unlikely. Every brother, sister, father, mother, son, daughter of those slaughtered is more, not less, likely to be violently opposed to Israel’s very existence now. They’ve driven the Arabs further together, have already seen 500K dual-nationality Israelis leave and their economy is not built for a long war. And now even a smallish group in Yemen are able to threaten their economic interests.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
6 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

I doubt the population of Gaza could be much more opposed to the existence of Israel than it already was on Oct 6.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
6 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

I think you give the game away in every post: ‘the maximalist claims of horror from the IDF & Israelis are by no means proven’ … but of course there’s no need to question the claims made by the Palestinians.

Liam F
Liam F
6 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Odd how few of Palestines neighbours are rushing to invite Palestinians refugees into their country? If fact they are opposed to helping them (once bitten twice shy) . Palestine has few friends for a reason.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
6 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

They also seem to be quite good at killing their own citizens, both on October 7th and hostages with white flags.

fjbernal
fjbernal
6 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

Any more blood libels today or you saving some for the weekend?

Al Bruton
Al Bruton
6 months ago
Reply to  fjbernal

Terrorism–
A poor man’s WAR is Terrorism
A rich man’s terrorism is WAR

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
6 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

I hear they drink the blood of Christian children as well – and control the world media.