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Bar Fishman

Reframe the Trebuchet: Contextualize Conflict News

IDF troops use a trebuchet to launch an incendiary device over the border into Lebanon, in a video circulated on June 13, 2024. (Screenshot from The Times of Israel)
IDF troops use a trebuchet to launch an incendiary device over the border into Lebanon, in a video circulated on June 13, 2024. (Screenshot from The Times of Israel)

In the endless barrel of viral content, one clip stood out during the last days: Israeli troops using a trebuchet to launch fireballs along the Lebanon border. Shocking? Certainly. But this visceral image, spreading like digital wildfire, represents something more pernicious—the media’s troubling habit of decontextualizing the news.

Firstly, the event’s portrayal in the media often lacks context, which is a prime example of decontextualization. Decontextualization can simplify complex issues into easily consumable pieces that spread quickly but lack nuance.  Let’s be clear, decontextualization is the practice of serving up information without the meal—no historical seasoning, no geopolitical vegetables. In an age of shrinking attention lengths, complex conflicts get boiled down to dull visuals empty of substance. The trebuchet clip is ‘Exhibit A’.

Apply the digital grammar rules from a recent book edited by of the digital diplomacy researchers Ilan Manor and Corneliu Bjola, and the problem snaps into focus. First up, visual simplicity—straightforward, easily digestible content travels further and faster online. A centuries-old weapon deployed in the modern age? Eye-catching simplicity sliced with a provocative twist.

But it’s emotional framing that truly lobs this footage into virality. Content sparking anger, shock, or outrage ignites those precious engagement metrics. A medieval munitions launcher on the Israel-Lebanon border? Add some ‘digital gasoline’ to those emotional flames.

Then computational personalization fans the fire. Algorithms serve up content aligning with our existing beliefs, insulating us in dense echo chambers. The trebuchet image reinforces age-old scenarios about the conflict, keeping us trapped in our partisan silos.

So, we find ourselves in a vicious cycle—a visually simple, emotionally charged clip surfaces, quickly disseminated to ideologically insulated audiences primed for misinterpretation. An explosion of misinformation and disinformation inevitably follows as unsuspecting viewers form baseless conclusions about the deeply complex regional conflicts.

Make no mistake, this digital minefield isn’t constrained to the Middle East. From elections to pandemics, decontextualization presents a clear and present danger to informed public discourse. The creators on different social media platforms bear a responsibility to supply that full, hearty context—the who, what, where, why and how that bring genuine understanding.

From the founding of Israel in 1948 and the traumatic wars, territorial disputes and violence that followed, to the complex sub-currents of regional power politics today—the border has never seen true and lasting peace. Every flare-up, however seemingly shocking or ordinary, is only the latest data point in a volatile trajectory stretching across generations.

Audiences too must develop a refined palate for discerning substance from sizzle. We can no longer gorge ourselves on empty digital calories, but must seek out diverse viewpoints and nuanced examination to become truly nourished citizens of the modern information era.

Let this trebuchet incident serve as a wake-up call. The next time a viral video lands in your feed, pause before hitting share. Open your mind to the full feast of facts and histories that give true meaning to the digital morsel before you. Only with this balanced media diet can we hope to combat decontextualization and cultivate an informed society.

About the Author
Bar Fishman is an M.A. Student and Junior Faculty Member in the Department of Communication Studies at Ben-Gurion University and Sapir Academic College. His research focuses on Political Science and International Relations in the Digital Era, with interests in Digital Diplomacy and Civic Participation.
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