Since the horrors of October 7 and the war that has followed, social media has been overwhelmed with people sharing and reposting thoughts and information about what’s going on in Israel. Feeds that normally consist of friends’ photos, innocuous memes, and easy weeknight dinners are now flooded with headlines and commentary about the latest in the Israel-Gaza war. We have never had news updates in such high volume and such easy access. But is this current way of discussing geopolitics any good?
The internet and social media have given us access to all information at our fingertips—yet it seems impossible to source the truth in what’s going on. On social media, there is little regulation about posting disinformation, and the recent attempts to mitigate such posting have somewhat backfired. It’s all too easy to post something false as a matter of fact, an opinion based on fallacy, and get people riled up enough to like, share, and continue the spread of misinformation. Accounts on social media—even if they’re verified or posit themselves as reliable sources of news commentary—are not held to journalism ethics and standards. They are unlikely to ever issue a retraction or correction, and if they do, it does not reach the same audience as the original post.
Mainstream news sources aren’t much better. They have two goals: make money and tell people what’s going on in the world—in that order. Western media has long since been reporting on Israel in a skewed and sometimes objectively dishonest way. But more inflammatory content equals more money. It’s not news to say an oppressive regime in Gaza maintains a criminally low quality of life for its citizens. What seems to get attention is the narrative of Israel with our big bad army striking the disenfranchised underdog along the Mediterranean. During the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020, the world saw more clearly the dishonest reporting that too often comes from news outlets we trust. Unfortunately, it seems people have a short-term memory when it comes to this vital lesson in media literacy.
While media literacy has never been more important, it’s as weak as ever. Social media has leveled the playing field so corroborated news and angry self-proclaimed activists with big followings appear equally as legitimate. People on social media like to make noise; they seek the dopamine rush of likes and shares, and what better way to yield those than by making grandiose statements using inflammatory language? People feel vindicated when their word-salad opinion gets a pat on the back, regardless of whether or not they know what they’re talking about. This has become a primary motive for sharing information and reflections online.
For people with social media followings in the hundred-thousands, or even millions, who claim to use their platform for good, there is a continuum of honesty and selfishness. It is possible that these accounts were started by people with the true intention of spreading awareness about pressing issues of injustice. But the vast majority of individuals running such accounts—whether intentionally or subconsciously—prioritize their following and their engagement statistics. Just like traditional media, they’re here to profit—sometimes by way of monetary compensation, but always at least by validation that they’re a good person, that they’re on the right side of history.
While these accounts preach to an echo chamber, they do not exist in a vacuum. The power of a digestible and aesthetically pleasing infographic may be doing more harm than good, as people who repost them take the information at face value without verifying where it came from, who is sharing it, and their credibility. The need for traditional credentials has been replaced in many young people’s minds by a high follower count. Even accounts whose primary purpose isn’t news or information sharing, profiles that typically do not have an agenda, shift into activist mode when it comes to conflict in Israel. Celebrities—whose follower count is often multiple times more than that entire global Jewish population—weigh in when their fans demand an answer (read: I’ll pressure this person into condemning Israel or I’ll unfollow). And on social media, anything goes; there’s no rule that says you can’t get your news about the Middle East from a model Tweeting in Los Angeles, and nothing is preventing their millions of fans from regarding their comment more highly than press reporting from on the ground. There’s also nothing preventing the ensuing antisemitism.
As predicted, there has been an alarming and steep rise in antisemitism around the world as a result of people reacting to news of the war; people add fuel to the fire often before bothering to learn so much as ‘who is Hamas.’ Because most of the users and victims of social media misinformation are young, this antisemitism follows them off-screen onto their college campuses. Campus antisemitism has long been a problem, and has historically even been a systemic problem in the Ivy League and other prestigious institutions. Consumption of biased or baseless Israel-related content on social media, combined with universities refusing to fight ever-growing campus antisemitism has consequences for students. It makes the conflict in Israel a dangerous time for these young adults, even though they are thousands of miles away from any military activity.
Even when the information being shared is more or less the truth, reporters and biased social media posters manipulate the language to subtly change and diminish the narrative. These headlines use passive language to sidestep vitriol from the anti-Israel crowd in their refusal to report fully and honestly about what is going on. The Israelis being held in Gaza are hostages, not prisoners. Hamas is a terrorist group, not a militant group. A man didn’t die at an Israel rally in LA, he was killed. Because so few people these days read beyond a headline, that is the narrative that is being portrayed. Hamas is trying to erase the Jewish people and these outlets are trying to erase this story.
Such tepid reporting on the worst brutality since atrocities committed by ISIS has consequences. People learn to perceive what’s happening to Jews around the world in a much more subdued way, if at all. That, combined with the complications of disinformation, propaganda, and context that is left out—either on purpose or simply due to the sheer volume of history that is needed to understand what goes on between Israel and Gaza—cause people to be more malleable to anti-Israel intimidators around them. These people continue spreading misinformation, and so the cycle goes. Not only are there thousands of people marching around the world calling in roundabout ways for essentially another Holocaust, but Jews are being assaulted and killed in the streets. Students are shunned, ostracized, and intimidated by their supposedly liberal and educated peers. Antisemitism since the war started has increased by approximately 400 percent in the US alone.
Toothpaste can’t be put back in the tube; Jews are learning who around them cares to be informed, who has secretly hated us all along, and the dangerous people who live among us. They may quiet down after the war, but they’re still there, and is the threat they pose to Jews’ safety. People who posted and reposted acting as if they have any idea what they’re talking about when their argument lies in the falsehood that Israel still occupies Gaza have done irreversible damage to the Jewish community and the perceived narrative of our experience. These people like to think they’re doing the right thing and then they look away. But Jews can’t look away. Don’t look away.