A war covered live by social media
The author is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo.
The 1991 Gulf War was the first war to be televised live. CNN was only Western media outlet to broadcast the U.S. invasion of Baghdad live, opening a new chapter in broadcasting. CNN emerged as a global news channel, but the night sky lit by exploding bombs looked like a scene from video games. Critics said that the war was made into entertainment, as viewers sit on the couch and consume other country’s tragedy as in realistic games. It was one of the reasons why Americans didn’t feel much moral remorse over this war.
Qatar’s satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera, which is called CNN of the Arab world, broadcast the battle of Iraqi government forces retaking the Northern city of Mosul occupied by the Islamic State with British Channel 4 on Facebook. According to Bloomberg News, it was the first successful case of media reporting military operations for an extended time on Facebook Live. The Iraqi government forces provided vivid bodycam footage by wearing cameras The purpose was to show the realistic battle as the IS was good with online PR war, but many criticized that the horrific tragedy was used for a spectacle.
Social media is actively working in the war in Ukraine. Urgent situations such as Russian troop movement, bombing of buildings, resistance of the residents and evacuation lines are broadcast live on YouTube, TikTok and Twitter. Many of them are heartbreaking to see, unarmed civilians blocking tanks, throwing Molotov cocktails and fathers saying goodbye to their young children as they leave to fight. The devastation of the war is delivered live on social media, enraging people around the globe.
After Ukraine forces said they had repulsed a Russian attack on their capital on February 26, President Volodymyr Zelensky shot a video vowing to stay and fight on. “I am here. We will not lay down any weapons. We will defend out state, because our weapons are our truth,” he declared. [AFP/YONHAP]
The Ukraine government is using social media proactively. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law on Facebook and a sent message to the public to reaffirm his determination to fight back. Government ministries also reported on the war situation domestically and internationally on social media. People around the world are praying to end the war and bring peace with hashtag relays.
The war expanded to the cyber front. The Ukrainian government announced a plan to create an IT unit to combat Russia’s cyberattacks, and hackers all over the world volunteered to help. International hackers group Anonymous has already claimed that they are behind the DDos attacks on Russian state-run television and major homepages.
Street surveillance camera videos are often broadcast. You can find many channels showing footage from surveillance cameras installed on major cities, including Kiev, on YouTube. While most show little unusual activities, many people watch them as something may happen. Now the videos are removed, but KBS and MBC also showed the video on their YouTube channels. Some surveillance cameras open their IP addresses, so anyone can watch them or relay the video. The 24-hour surveillance cameras play the role of the war correspondent without any legwork or process, so I find it somewhat eerie. The purpose is to show the scene as is in real time, but I cannot deny that viewers may have the voyeuristic desire kicking in, hoping to see some spectacle and shocking images as in war movies rather than eventless, peaceful routine videos.
As I watched these surveillance images, I thought of the sci-fi film “Transcendence” starring Jonny Depp. A genius brain scientist connects and collects all information from networks around the world and becomes immortal after death by implanting the information into an artificial brain. I had a chill when I saw the scene of surveillance cameras all over the world becoming connected at once and tremendous size of data being accumulated. Of course, this is a farfetched cinematic imagination, but I once again realized that we are living in a time when people can see surveillance footage taken in front of my house from the other side of the world. Digital information technology is changing both war and life.