Early on Monday morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of an attempt by Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake Mosul, the northern Iraqi city that's been held by ISIS since June 2014. The announcement and initial maneuvers of the operation were livestreamed on social media; On Facebook, on YouTube, on Periscope you could tune in early this morning to watch shaky footage of armored vehicles, soldiers and smoke rising in the distance.
The streams are drawing from Kurdish news services called Rudaw and Kurdistan 24, as well as other sources of footage including the Associated Press. Many of the livestreams have ended for now, though a slightly delayed YouTube feed run by German video agency Ruptly continues to around 1,400 viewers. A four-hour Al-Jazeera Facebook Live video drew 816,000 views, Channel 4's Facebook stream garnered another 485,000, while a Russia Today Periscope got another 43,000 or so.
The videos are being provided by news agencies, but Iraqi and Kurdish officials involved with planning the attack are capitalizing on social media as well. There's an official hashtag for the operation, #FreeMosul.
There's something darkly familiar to the footage. After all, the better part of the last decade was spent with regular live coverage of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the aftermath of those invasions. ≈
And live YouTube comments, which are exactly what you'd expect, a mix of people earnestly asking questions, drawing video game comparisons, and posting as Hitler:
Oh, and calling viewers from some countries cucks:
Much has been written recently about how ISIS has employed social media as a tool for recruiting and propagandizing. But watching likes and "wow" faces stream across smoke rising out of the city is a reminder that war as entertainment and spectacle is an awful game for everyone.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org