The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office is to begin drafting computer experts with an eye toward establishing an Internet and new media department unit, Army Spokesman Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu said Monday.
Speaking at the Eilat Journalists Conference, Benayahu said the new department would focus on the Internet's social media networks mainly to reach an international audience directly rather than through the regular media.
The new unit, as well as an initiative by the Information and Diaspora Ministry to train people to represent Israel independently on the Internet and in other arenas, were presented Monday at the conference during a panel discussion on Israeli public relations abroad.
Responding to criticism of Israel's ability to face hostile entities on the Web, Benayahu said the new program would be able to deal with the problem. He said that from each group drafted to the Army Spokesman's Office, between eight to 10 young people who are experts in Web 2.0 - YouTube, Facebook and Twitter - to be identified before induction, would be assigned to the new department. The new recruits would be put to work in the new media unit after undergoing a general Army Spokesman's Unit training course.
Benayahu told Haaretz the new program would be up and running in a few months.
The Army Spokesman's Office began working in this area more than a year ago. During Operation Cast Lead it put up YouTube videos of attacks on targets in the Gaza Strip, to illustrate the care the IDF takes to avoid hitting civilians. One such clip showed how the pilot of an IDF helicopter diverted a missile that had been fired at a target when it was realized civilians had entered the target area.
The head of communications at the Army Spokesman's office, Col. Ofer Kol, said they wanted to reach "mainly an international audience that is less exposed to operational processes. Foreign media do more 'zooming-in' and so it's important to us to show the totality of IDF actions without a filter."
The IDF YouTube account got millions of hits during Operation Cast Lead, which led to the decision to expand activity at the site and other social network Web sites. The IDF hopes to show other sides of the army less familiar to the world, such as women's service.
The Spokesman's Office has also contacted bloggers who are known as opinion-makers and sent them information and pictures directly.
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