Since the start of their exponentially increasing attacks on Gaza, Israel has been putting out ads that talk about the atrocities of Hamas against Israelis—the most common narrative being that Hamas allegedly beheading babies.
Their most viral ad has been this uncorroborated message appearing in children’s videos, reaching out to parents for support. This is just one example of how disinformation is flooding online spaces and shows how vital it is that everyday users understand how to navigate it.
In the age of social media and breaking news, where information is shared first and verified later, users find themselves bombarded with more information than they can understand or process, much less analyze as real or fake. In the Ukraine crisis, studies found TikTok to be a key source of misinformation for young users. Because social media algorithms show you content that aligns with your interests or views, users can easily get stuck in an information loop or, in this case, a “misinformation loop.”
Even when posts are deleted, or retractions and corrections are issued, like with the alleged beheading babies claim, mistakes and retractions cannot be undone when they are already seared into viewers’ minds. Prominent journalists and news outlets circulated the story in an effort to be the first to report, and President Biden repeated the claim, only to later walk back reports when it was unsubstantiated. But in a world of tweets and click-bait headlines, the details matter little, causing irreparable harm. The repetition of these stories and claims cements ideas of Palestinians deserving to be attacked and justifies acts of oppression like collective punishment.
• Educate yourself through local voices. Follow initiatives like Metras Global, which puts out research-oriented content on Palestine.
• Support and engage with journalists fighting misinformation. Cross-check information you receive across various sources and fact-checking websites. Call out false narratives online and push for local media publications and leaders to do better.
• Read media coverage and social media posts critically. Call out false narratives online and push for local media publications and leaders to do better.
• Consider: who is cited as an authoritative source? Is there more research or verification to be done? How does language influence your perception/understanding of the information or the event? How do tropes and stereotypes affect your perception of current events?
Journalist Sophia Smith Galer, whose work focuses on misinformation, has also shared that another common one is a video seemingly showing the autopsy of a child burned alive. Videos like these have caught the attention of misinformation experts like Galer because they are monetized ads that are heavily distributed to specific countries, some of which have gone against ad guidelines in their depiction of violence and relayed unsubstantiated content as fact. These ads by the Israel Foreign Ministry ran on YouTube and X, formerly Twitter, and were seen millions of times, with upwards of $7 million spent to run them on the streaming site.
Inundating the public and international audiences with messaging to sway sympathy is common during war conflicts and crises, but using social media and ad campaigns as a propaganda technique is becoming the “new reality,” favoring those with the capacity and resources to run them. The messaging is accepted, even reported, at face value, without facts or scrutinizing the source. Incidents like the Al-Ahli hospital blast have become focus points for arguments online, which only seeks to add to the noise and make it harder to filter out disinformation.
At times like this, it becomes crucial to focus on individuals challenging disinformation, like BBC Verify’s journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh, and, more importantly, voices on the ground like editor and university professor Refaat Alareer and journalist Mariam Barghouti. The latter is crucial because not only are they best located to share what’s happening in the region but also because social platforms are being accused of shadowbanning and suppressing voices speaking about Palestine.
This makes it harder for the international community to see what’s occurring on the ground and allows a wave of disinformation and anti-Palestine propaganda to come through.
Even seemingly well-meaning posts can also be misleading or share false AI-generated photos. In cases like this, look for both quality and quantity. Who is the source of this claim, and who is supporting it? Do they have a history of sharing disinformation or reports that have been debunked? What is their authority or proximity to verified information? Sardarizadeh points out that visuals are more reliable compared to text but that those should also be verified through mechanisms like Google Reverse Image Search.
Language also plays a role in how information is received and understood, especially from media platforms that claim objective reporting. The term “Israel-Hamas conflict”* is commonly used to describe the current crisis in Gaza. However, the term ignores the decades worth of violence and oppression toward Palestinians and the skewed power dynamics of Israel, which has far more economic, political, and military strength than the people whose water and electricity they cut off. This can also be seen similarly in reporting that uses language like “X number of Israelis killed and X number of Palestinians dead.” The comparison in using an active voice for Israeli deaths and a passive voice for Palestinian victims makes a huge difference in how readers perceive that information, as it makes the death of Palestinians seem less like a violent act against them subconsciously. Additionally, the use of dehumanizing language is often used against Muslim or Arab people, specifically men, to demonize them or justify their deaths. We saw this when Instagram users were labeled as “terrorists” for simply identifying as Palestine, having the Palestinian flag emoji, or Alhamdulillah (which means Praise be to God) in their bio. Palestinians are also being consistently called supporters of Hamas or that they elected them when Gaza hasn’t seen a proper election since 2006.
All of these efforts are harmful enough individually, but together, they actively change how Palestinians and the crisis they are experiencing under oppression are perceived. So much so that a genocide is happening right before our eyes, and we’re not willing to accept it.
• Propaganda and disinformation are being widely circulated without verification during the current crisis in Gaza.
• The “report first, verify later” approach and well-meaning, but false social posts make it harder to filter out disinformation.
• Language, media bias, power dynamics, and stereotypes play a major role in how news and information are reported and perceived.
*The ARD has used this phrase, and will no longer do so, after learning about how it skews the narrative.