Yesterday, when I wrote about the social media campaign that Israel was waging alongside its attack on Hamas, I thought it was interesting. I thought it was a straightforward and effective way of presenting the cause behind the attack. Whether you thought the offensive was right or wrong, you had to admit the propaganda's effectiveness.
Well, day two has changed matters. The IDF Blog now has atrocious gamification badges with points and rewards for sharing the content to social media. For example, if you visit the site 10 times, you get the "Consistent" badge. If you search the blog multiple times, you're promoted to "Research Officer." Yes, Israel has gamified war. This is absolutely horrendous.
This game has existed since July. But it was not displayed yesterday, when the campaign began. Now that it's back, the world noticed. Promoting it on the front page during this military campaign is beyond crass.
An IDF spokesperson tells ReadWrite that "over the past two days the blog has experienced technical difficulties due to high traffic, and 'IDF Ranks' was temporarily taken down to make necessary adjustments to our systems. In no way is 'IDF Ranks' meant to gamify Operation Pillar of Defense or any military actions during the operation."
The technical reason sounds plausible, although I was on the site pretty early yesterday, and I never saw a trace of it. As for whether the IDF meant to gamify the operation, by turning the game back on, they did whether they meant to or not. When asked why they turned the game back on, the spokesperson said, "We turned it on because it is an integral part of the blog and has been for four months. After the site was briefly down because of the spike in traffic, we isolated it as a potential factor and, once we rectified the technical difficulties, brought it back up again."
The fact is, someone made the conscious decision to turn the game back on after the shooting began. I just can't imagine a justification for it. Gamification is offensive when coupon companies do it. This is a WAR. Israel is trying to enlist the people of the world in its campaign with military ranks, badges and points. Innocent people are dying on all sides, and the IDF wants to reward people for tweeting about it.
It doesn't matter what your opinion on the conflict itself is. We're not talking about the morals of war. We're talking about propaganda, pure and simple. This kind of marketing is manipulative and sleazy on the best of days. It's a way for propagandists to drag your friends' brains into something by using you. I want to write this post about apps and start-ups making dumb products sometimes. To gamify war is just absolutely unconscionable to me.
This isn't the first digital war game that's horrified me. When America's Army came out, before the social media age began, I thought it was the most disgusting thing I'd ever seen. But it's abstract. It's a recruitment tool. There's no real-world component; it's just designed to get people fired up. That's awful enough. But this is check-ins for spectators watching an active, live military campaign. It makes me sick.