Disinformation takes Israel-Hamas conflict to the online front

False claims about the Israel-Palestine conflict are running rampant online.

False claims about the Israel-Palestine conflict are running rampant online. Photo: Getty

A woman is set on fire after being captured by Hamas over the weekend, and the video is spread online to show the evil of the Palestinian militant group.

The only problem is the video — both real and brutal — is of a nearly decade-old killing, and those spreading it have contributed to an information war raging online and the newest front of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Images and videos from Hamas’s brutal attack on civilians over the weekend, and Israel’s retaliatory strikes on civilian targets in Gaza, have flooded the internet, alongside false and intentionally misleading content about the conflict.

Multiple accounts on Twitter have posted the now-removed video, often with the exact same captions and tags, claiming the woman was captured by Hamas and brutally murdered.

CNN coverage confirms the video is actually from Central America in 2015, and it isn’t the only example of misleading or intentionally false information being spread online.

Even the President of the United States isn’t immune to spreading unverified information, after Joe Biden claimed he had seen videos of Hamas militants beheading children.

“I never really thought that I would see and have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children,” he said.

The White House later clarified that Biden had neither seen such images, nor had the United States confirmed if the reported events occurred.

The claim was first reported by a journalist with Israel’s i24 News, but other media outlets have not been able to verify the accuracy as of yet.

Despite this, and the Israeli Defence Force confirming it hadn’t verified the information, it hasn’t stopped the claim from being repeated time and time again online.

Then there are claims that Israel was attempting to create fake footage of children dying. But it turns out the footage is of a movie called Empty Place being filmed. See below:

Algorithmic influence

Dr Darrin Durant, senior lecturer in Science and Technology Studies at Melbourne University, told The New Daily the levels of disinformation and misinformation a person is subject to is influenced by which social media outlet’s algorithm they interact with.

“If you’re using YouTube to access it you’re probably seeking out extremist content, but if you’re on Twitter it’s just flowing into your feed,” Durant said.

“The more extreme the content, the more it’s clear that there’s an intent to strategically select information and present information.”

Disinformation is intentionally disseminated to mislead, while misinformation is false or inaccurate information without the intent to deceive.

Durant said it is difficult for regular users of social media to determine what is false when perusing the near-constant stream of information from feeds driven by algorithms designed to anger and annoy, and keep people engaging with content.

“We know the difference between misinformation and disinformation is the degree of strategic intent, so the higher the degree of strategic intent [that] is telling us that it’s disinformation,” he said.

“The more you try to police a misinformation claim, the more you are simply policing people’s raw speech, because we have vast political differences.”

Users, who have paid for verification, are also impersonating media outlets on Twitter to disseminate misleading, doctored and fake information.

Falsified BBC report

A falsified video of a BBC report claiming that Ukraine had sold NATO weapons to Hamas was widely disseminated and shared on both Telegram and Twitter.

Bellingcat, an investigative group that the report claimed had confirmed the sale of weapons, clarified the video is ‘100 per cent fake,’ while the BBC also confirmed the doctored video wan’t real.

Gatekeeper media

Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have struggled on how to handle false claims for as long as they’ve existed, but Durant said the same information selection issue is also present within traditional media outlets.

“You had a series of relatively peaceful pro-Palestinian marches and demonstrations within Sydney and around the Opera House, but the mainstream media focused really on the extremist content,” he said.

“There was a story about a bunch of Israelis who turned up at a pro-Israel demonstration, and they’d been saying kill all the Arabs, flatten Gaza and were showing pictures of Gaza made to look like a carpark, and the media story was about how there was this genocidal intent.”

He said reporting on the polar extremes of a conflict or ignoring important context isn’t avoiding bias, but instead contributes to a larger issue.

“Maybe one of the reasons why disinformation gets such a hold is because even traditional gatekeeper media sources are behaving just like the Youtube algorithm and seeking out the most extreme content,” Durant said.

“The stories people are reading in this particular case are polar opposite genocidal movements, rather than that the bulk of those demonstrations — when you look at the physical coverage and see the people there — are relatively peaceful.”

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