Shortly after Israel began its ground invasion of Gaza, Anne Barnard, a New York Times reporter who has covered wars for over a decade, stood in the emergency room of the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City and watched a 9-year-old girl die.
The girl was alone, without family, nameless. And when the doctor finally pronounced her dead, Barnard and another reporter wept.
And then she tweeted:
In ER, girl, 9?, lies still, staring. No relative w/her. Docs gently check pulse, again & again, until it's time. A white sheet & she's gone— Anne Barnard (@ABarnardNYT) July 20, 2014
Israel’s wars are always fought on two fronts — the actual on-the-ground one and the battlefield of world opinion. The tricky part is that a victory on one front very often means a loss on the other: Say a house is bombed, killing a man in charge of a rocket launcher, but it also killed his family, including five children, whose lifeless bodies appear on television that night.
It’s not clear what front should have priority — your perspective on this will depend largely on whether you yourself are cowering in a bomb shelter in a city targeted by that rocket launcher or have the benefit of viewing all this from a safe distance.
But what’s absolutely certain now is that Twitter has been a game changer for the public perception front, demolishing much of the distance that allowed for attempts at objectivity and balance, the careful construction of stories that bow to the narratives of both sides. No more. Now it’s what’s right in front of a reporter’s face, in the immediate present — what they’re seeing, what they are feeling. (And these tweets are reaching many more people than before: Twitter now has 100 million more users than it did during the last Gaza operation, in 2012).
This war has provided hundreds of examples of reporters responding in real time like Barnard. When Israeli shelling on a Gaza beach killed four young boys , Western reporters who were staying at a nearby hotel witnessed it. Tyler Hicks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for The New York Times, not only tweeted, but also wrote up an unusual first-person piece for the paper, in which he expressed incredulity that Israel could have mistaken the children for Hamas fighters.
This was only the most well-known example. Every day has brought tweets like this one from Kim Sengupta from the British newspaper The Independent:
#Gaza met a man in Shejaiya two days ago who was determined not to leave his damaged house. Saw the house again today, totally destroyed.— Kim Sengupta (@KimSengupta07) July 20, 2014
Or this one from Sophia Jones of The Huffington Post:
This AM at al-Shifa hospital, where scores of terrified Shejaia civilians have fled, people were begging me & my colleague for help. #Gaza— Sophia Jones (@Sophia_MJones) July 20, 2014