“I worry for them like I worry for my Palestinian friends who are in Gaza now, living under bombardment of air strikes,” says the author of “Crossing Boundaries: A Traveler’s Guide to World Peace.” “We need to see the nuances.”
Misinformation and propaganda about the Israel-Hamas conflict – which has resulted in more than 900 Israelis and upwards of 680 Palestinians dead, just days into a new war – fills social media feeds and shows no signs of slowing. Some posts mention the death toll on only one side. Some ignore the civilians taken hostage. Some fail to mention Israel’s occupation of Gaza. Some don’t account for why Jewish people around the world grow afraid.
These posts often come from those far away from the conflict, like in the U.S., who feel like they have to say something for the sake of seeming involved. But declaring support for one “side” over the other and listing out-of-context information about Israelis and Palestinians may hurt more than help your cause.
Infographic social media posts trying to detail a topic as fraught, as frustrating, as long-lasting as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will always lack critical details due to social media’s bite-size commentary nature. Experts warn you should seek greater context before sharing anything. It’s perfectly acceptable – and even preferred – for you to stay quiet if you don’t know enough about what you’re talking about.
“Not everything is black and white,” Abu Sarah says. “And to me, it’s most painful when I see people I know, people who I respect, people who I love, who have fallen for these (posts) and feel that they need to serve ‘their country, their cause, their people,’ whatever, by spreading misinformation. It’s devastating to me.”
Abu Sarah worries the propaganda and misinformation could be result in deadly consequences, for those in the Middle East and elsewhere. “People will read it, get angry and do things.”
‘Abuses are quite evident’
Websites like Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter, speak in soundbites, not dissertations.
“You only have a certain amount of space where you can post your tweet or one photo or two, and it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to any kind of nuance, or real, significant conversation,” says Shaya Lerner, the director of Israel Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League.
The sites have historically faced difficulty combating antisemitic and Islamophobic posts.
Plus, “we know that algorithms can trend toward feeding people polarizing and extremist content to keep them clicking,” says Sarah Parkinson, assistant professor of political science and international studies at Johns Hopkins University. “The lack of moderation makes it easy for individuals and organizations to harass people into silence.”
Social media infographics, of course, can be helpful resources in educating those completely uninformed. It’s when people don’t go beyond theses sources that trouble looms. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, says: “There are positive, important things that we can do with postings on social media. But the boundaries are not clear. And the abuses are quite evident.”
Jacobs says some of the posts he’s seen have hurt.
“I, every day, would not only defend but really strongly defend the rights of Palestinians to have dignity and human rights,” Jacobs says. “But for me to say that (Hamas) this group of terrorists who are trying to literally murder women and children and families and rip families apart and take them captive, and (for some on social media) to be able to say with a straight face, this is such a noble thing they’re doing. That just offends every sensibility I have.”
‘These are all acts of violence’
Many argue that the decades of violence against Palestinians under Israeli occupation warrants mentioning to better contextualize the attack on Israel.
“The cancer patients in Gaza who can’t receive medical treatment, because they’re not allowed out of the enclave, and yet they die as a result of that, that’s violence,” says Saree Makdisi, UCLA professor and author of “Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.”
He wants to see instances like these illustrated more on social media, which is often too simplified: “It’s not all big explosions, and fires and rockets and tanks and this kind of thing,” he adds.
‘You’re missing the story’
So if social media infographic posting and re-posting isn’t the right answer, what is?
“My advice to people is always to read a broad spectrum of media outlets, including media from the region, and to understand what it is that they’re reading,” Parkinson says. “Search the outlet, read a Wikipedia page on it; don’t just go to one news source to understand any situation. Verify that what you’re reading a credible outlet or source. Seek out local voices and establish who they are.”
Makdisi adds: “It’s important to understand the context and the history of this violence, where it’s come from, where it’s going, and what the possible solutions are, that involve peace and justice for all sides.” Granted, what peace and justice look like, and if it’s even achievable, differs depending who you’re asking.
That doesn’t mean social media is useless, either. Abu Sarah suggests following those who have different points of view. He also recommends sharing stories of unity: “There are today, Israelis and Palestinians who are doing the impossible to support each other. I can tell you dozens of these stories and yet unfortunately, those are the missing stories, whether it’s on social media or in our discussions.”
If you decide to post something, don’t expect everyone to agree with you. “Remember that many on social media already have their minds made up and will respond to what they ‘think’ you are saying rather than your actual words,” says psychologist Reneé Carr.
When you stop thinking of the other “side” as human, you’ve lost. Abu Sarah adds: “If you think one side is a pure evil and one side is pure good, you’re missing the story.”