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The bias and power of Snapchat and social media

The online service showed Tel Aviv and the West Bank in different contexts, with an apparent political agenda
The promenade and hotels along the beach in Tel Aviv, May 3, 2015 (Serge Attal/Flash90)
The promenade and hotels along the beach in Tel Aviv, May 3, 2015 (Serge Attal/Flash90)

Today on my Facebook page I posted the following:

“Interesting how Snapchat story in West Bank shows the “separation wall” (hmm how about SECURITY wall) but when the story was in Israel, it didn’t show any places that were affected horribly due to terror attacks. Where were the videos of the tunnels that threatened Israeli security? Where were the videos of memorials put up to those brutally murdered at the hands of our enemies? This is not an invitation to debate on my status, but rather a suggestion to reflect on the bias found in today’s traditional and social media.”

I would like to take this opportunity to elaborate on that a little bit. As a communications student, I learn about how incredible new social media is, in that it gives everyone a voice and can help to reduce bias.

Recently, I had an exam in which we discussed Denis McQuail’s idea of the Democratic-Participatory media model. He argues that media should be a way for everyone’s voices to be heard, and not be controlled by the elite and professionals own agenda.

Snapchat’s global stories allow users in the specific area to send them videos and pictures, which Snapchat then goes through and decides which to publish for all of their users to see.


Although Snapchat is a wonderful outlet to share your voice and send funny pictures to your friends, and the recent addition of stories from around the world have been a great way to connect people, today I became aware of how harmful social media truly can be.

The difference of coverage between Tel Aviv and the West Bank is shocking. The stories that Snapchat included on their story of Tel Aviv, versus the story about the West Bank show that there can be problems of bias in social media that are just as strong in traditional media.

In Tel Aviv pictures and stories included girls dancing at clubs, people on the beach, and other neutral visuals. There was no pictures of the soldiers, no showing places that were blown up during the Intifada, no showing tunnels or any sign of terror that has tormented Israel for decades.

The West Bank, on the other hand, had pictures of the Security Wall, referring to it as the “Apartheid Wall” or the “Separation Wall”. It was definitely not a politically neutral story.

The fact that those who use Snapchat are not necessarily people who are going to be extremely informed about the true nature of the conflict in the Middle East scares me. The only exposure many people will have to the conflict, thanks to Snapchat, is that in Israel there are parties and beaches, and in the West Bank there is a wall that excludes those living there from partaking in the benefits that Israel has to offer.

Social media is incredible because it can connect to audiences who previously might not know much about a certain issue. However, when social media is manipulated to show bias and facts that are not so true, there becomes a problem. Social media, when used in a negative way, can have major repercussions.

About the Author
Originally from Washington, D.C., Penina Graubart is the New Media Associate for Times of Israel. She also attends IDC Herzliya, studying at the Sammy Ofer School of Communications
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