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13 Okt 2023

Tamara Kharroub, Arab Center Washington DC

CSO warns that disinformation & hate speech on social media fuel war crimes against Gaza

"Disinformation and Hate Speech on Social Media Contribute to Inciting War Crimes Against Gaza", 13 October 2023

In the coverage of the recent Hamas attack on Israel and the latter’s criminal bombardment of Gaza, the amount of disinformation, false content, and violent hate speech on social media platforms has reached unprecedented levels. This type of content incites further violence, manufactures support for war crimes, and impacts real world policy decisions. The world is witnessing a new phase of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and social media content is fanning the flames of further violence.

Unprecedented Scale and Speed of Disinformation

The level of disinformation, especially on X (formerly Twitter), has never been seen before and is spreading at accelerated speed due to its graphic and emotional nature, which in turn widens its reach. According to some analysts, 20 percent of the accounts participating in these conversations online are fake and mostly operating on X and TikTok. Additionally, there have been tens of millions of posts about the events in Israel and Palestine, and the enormous amounts of unverifiable content, and the speed at which it is spreading, far outpace content moderation measures by social media platforms, especially after waves of layoffs at many tech companies like X and Meta, which impacted content and safety teams.

... after being acquired by Elon Musk, X has become the platform with the largest amount of disinformation and hate speech. Musk, who reposts far-right antisemitic accounts and verifiably false content, has eliminated teams that deal with disinformation and human rights and safety at the company, and instituted platform changes that made it easier for false information to spread.

Musk’s efforts since taking over Twitter (now X) have essentially removed any existing guardrails on disinformation and hate speech, made it more difficult for researchers to study content and patterns on the platform, and made this information environment more susceptible to exploitation by malicious actors.

While some organizations have been conducting factchecking of social media content (for example through reverse image searches), they are not able to keep up and the risk of artificial intelligence (AI)-generated content that looks realistic is a real possibility. Additionally, most of the (presumed) primary footage was first shared privately on message apps like Telegram and WhatsApp and then posted on social media platforms.

Hate Speech and the Silencing of Palestinian Narratives

In addition to disinformation, hateful and violent content and cyber harassment have been rampant on social media platforms. Some organizations have identified thousands of cases of hate speech including antisemitism, islamophobia, and anti-Palestinian racism, especially on X.

This trend is particularly concerning because marginalized and oppressed populations like the Palestinians rely on social media platforms to share their grievances and document human rights abuses against them. This is important, especially when mainstream media outlets continue to present biased accounts, exclude Palestinian voices and stories, and perpetuate narratives and reporting practices that dehumanize the Palestinian people and undermine their suffering while decontextualizing events. More concerning, Israel has cut off the electricity in the Gaza Strip, creating an internet blackout. ... At a time when western governments are ignoring Israeli atrocities against Palestinian civilians and mainstream media outlets have no reporters there, the Israeli internet blackout is alarming and will serve to give Israel cover as it commits outright massacres. At a time of a fast-developing crisis, decision-making is based on the available information; the dangerous dehumanization of Palestinians, coupled with their silencing, contributes to the narrative of supporting war crimes and will have harmful and long-lasting consequences.

Part of the following timelines

Tech companies criticized for their complicity & bias against Palestinians regarding the Gaza conflict

Social media platforms allegedly contribute to harmful content & to suppress Palestinian voices during times of crisis; incl. co. comments