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The Digital Frontline: Social Media’s Influence on the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Updated: May 23

In today's interconnected world, social media has established itself as a platform that mirrors our opinions and beliefs, and inadvertently amplifies and reinforces them. But not only does it act as a mirror, it is also a magnifying glass for our beliefs, often creating echo chambers and intensifying tribalism. It operates in a way that favours the status quo through algorithms, thus perpetuating established power structures.

The Israel-Palestine conflict, one of the longest-standing conflicts in modern global politics, has become a prominent topic in this digital battleground. This article delves into how media, while reflecting and intensifying our preconceived notions and beliefs, also shapes the narrative of this conflict by often favouring the hegemonic viewpoint associated with Israel. Examining the biases and the impact online platforms have on moulding public perception is essential, as this influence goes beyond just reflecting existing opinions – it entrenches them.

Social media has evolved into an arena for competing narratives in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It can tell a convincing story and shape public perception of the conflict. This has led to a significant advantage for Israel, displayed through the overwhelming support for Israel by the British and other Western governments. This advantage arises through the imbalance and bias of social media platforms, facilitating Israel to portray itself in a favourable light, embodying a story of resilience and self-defence against the "terrorists'', who are innocent Palestinians.

Faten Elwan, a prominent Palestinian journalist, has come out to illustrate the alarming bias she's experienced on social media. She was initially banned from TikTok for covering the conflict, taking the side of Palestine. After attempting to create another account, she was blocked within minutes. Such swift censorship actions raise questions of bias on these social media platforms. Furthermore, the civil rights group 7amleh has documented over 103,000 posts in Hebrew promoting hate speech and fake news on social media platforms. While social media platforms like X and Meta claim they have “strict” content moderation policies, specifically targeting hate speech and misinformation, these policies have an inherent bias, as evidenced by Hebrew hate speech often escaping the radar.

On the 15th of October, Andy Stone, a Meta communications spokesperson, went to X to blame this censorship on a bug. Stone wrote: "We identified a bug leading to significantly reduced reach. This bug affected accounts equally around the globe and had nothing to do with the subject matter of the content.”

Algorithmic biases on these social media platforms must also be closely scrutinised. There are claims that content that is sympathetic towards the Palestinian cause is disproportionally removed or shadow-banned from platforms compared to content favouring Israel. This strongly restricts the Palestinian perspective, disallowing those outside of Israel and Palestine from hearing both sides. Over the 13 days leading up to the proposed ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, 7amleh also discovered over 500 documentations of Palestinian so-called "digital rights violations", including the deletion or shadow-banning of hashtags, content, and accounts related to the conflict from the Palestinian point of view.

This biased representation of the Israel-Palestine conflict on social media is undoubtedly a strong cause for concern in our ever-expanding digital world. These social media companies should be open forums for discussion and understanding, free from an overarching algorithm and policies of censorship and bias. The future of the digital representation of this conflict entirely depends on our collective human effort to ensure fairness and neutrality.

These algorithmic biases have led some creators to “trick” the system. Mohammad Darwish has created a website, “Free Palestine.bydotpy” which automatically alters inputted text to circumvent potential algorithmic biases that may impact pro-Palestine posts' reachability.

Addressing this biased representation of the conflict is not simply a matter of promoting freedom of speech, it's about upholding the democratic principles that Western democracies were founded upon. As social media continues to shape the political landscape and our world, it's vital that no narrative can drown out another, and that the tribalising effects of echo chambers are mitigated. We need to create a platform for equal expression – only then will we be able to develop balanced and informed opinions on the Israel-Palestine war.

Image: Ted Eytan

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