The Image War Moves to TikTok Evidence from the May 2021 Round of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Moran Yarchi*, Lillian Boxman-Shabtai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The increasing mediatization of war makes battles over public image evermore prominent. Individual citizens, no longer mediated by traditional gatekeepers, engage in public diplomacy and citizen-journalism, communicating directly to the public. TikTok, a visual social media platform, was used extensively by Palestinians and Israelis to mobilize international support during the 2021 round of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This paper examines appeals that Israeli and Palestinian TikTok users made to international audiences by comparing 318 posts sampled from two rhetorically equivalent hashtags. A content analysis examining the strategies used, found that each side emphasized different themes (e.g., victimization on the Israeli side, personal narratives on the Palestinian side). Although pro-Israeli users were more strategic in their use of the platform’s features, a multi-variate analysis of engagement found that pro-Palestinian activists were more successful in creating engagement. To further understand the complex and subtle meaning structures encoded into the posts, a subsample of 42 highly shared posts was probed qualitatively for its aesthetics and values, using a semiotic analysis. A first study to compare public diplomacy efforts on TikTok across parties, this paper contributes to knowledge about the ways citizens bear witness from warzones, use platform affordance for storytelling, and engage with the international community.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalDigital Journalism
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Keywords

  • Image war
  • TikTok
  • civic diplomacy
  • public diplomacy
  • social media
  • the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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