All opinions expressed are those of the writer.
After the tragic rocket fire and civil unrest in Israel earlier this year, the internet showed us how quickly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be exacerbated through posts made on social media. Pew Research Center recently reported that 53% of U.S. adults get their news from social media, meaning over half of American adults will get their information about Israeli-Palestinian conflicts from Facebook, Instagram, and other social platforms instead of reliable news sources. Millions have been quick to make their opinions of the conflict known online, leading to a flood of dangerous misinformation on both sides. If we want to aid in the fight for peace, we must recognize and reject false narratives on social media surrounding the Israeli-Paestinian conflict aiming to promote violence.
“Fire at Al Aqsa Mosque compound, Zionist settlers are celebrating the attack!” During the height of the conflict, this claim quickly circulated around Twitter, accompanied by a video with 2.3 million views that showed clouds of smoke billowing above the Al Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. A similar video with a staggering 15 million views follows the tweet, “Israeli Jews singing and chanting as a fire burns outside al Aqsa mosque. Horrific, disgusting behavior.”
These tweets give their viewers a shocking picture of violence against Muslim Palestinians. But the reason these tweets are concerning isn’t because of the violence; it’s because none of it actually happened. Reuters reported that the Al Aqsa Mosque was never set on fire, and the object burning in the video turned out to be a nearby tree. The Jerusalem Post also shared that the Israeli Jews singing outside were celebrating a Jewish holiday, not the fire. But the damage is already done; most of the videos’ combined 17 million viewers will never know the truth behind the tweets’ claims.
Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp have been used to spread a myriad of false information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One message spread rapidly through WhatsApp groups, claiming that Palestinian mobs would be attacking neighborhoods in Tel Aviv. However, New York Times analysts exposed these reports as false, and no such violence was documented in the mentioned areas.
Misleading information isn’t the only problem surfacing with the influx of social media posts; in many cases, it’s what isn’t being shared that’s the issue. Withholding information necessary for an unbiased perspective is just as detrimental as sharing false messages. In “Eight Tips For Reading About Israel,” author Matti Friedman explains that if a claim about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ignores regional context, omits timelines, or oversimplifies complex narratives, it’s not a credible argument. Discerning the truth involves multiple steps; if someone says otherwise, they aren’t telling the whole story.
But what makes these posts so captivating that they go viral before anyone checks for misinformation? The answer lies in how our brains are wired to process danger. Research documented in “The Power of Bad,” shows that the amygdala, a collection of cells near the brain stem, triggers emotional responses when it encounters potential problems. This prompts the brain to automatically notice peril while ignoring anything non-threatening to prioritize safety when it senses danger (Tierney & Baumeister, 2021, 73). Since we are naturally triggered by threatening stimuli, we’re more likely to pay more attention to violence-laden posts than encouraging content. This creates a warped narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, drowning out the many voices sharing accurate, constructive information.
No matter what opinions one may hold surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s clear that the many false claims on social media are only encouraging hatred between both sides and their supporters. They distract from real issues by baiting us with catchy captions, and stoke conflict by presenting biased opinions as fact. One of the best ways that we can advocate for those impacted by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to actively reject one-sided stories and educate ourselves in the truth, rather than accept social media as our only eye into the rest of the world. Whatever our beliefs, we must all work to combat social media’s spread of lies if we are ever to hope for peace in the Near East.
Learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how to respond:
“Israeli Jews singing and chanting as a fire burns outside al Aqsa mosque. Horrific, disgusting behavior.“ Tweet by Max Berger. Twitter.
Lies on Social Media Inflame Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, by S. Frenkel. The New York Times.
Eight Tips for Reading About Israel, by Matti Friedman. Sapir.
Jews Dancing While Fire Rages on Temple Mount Lights up Social Media, by Jerusalem Post Staff. The Jerusalem Post.
More Than Eight-in-Ten Americans Get News from Digital Devices. by Elisa Shearer. Pew Research Center.
The Power of Bad: How The Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It, by J. Tierney and R. F. Baumeister. Penguin Books.
Tree Catches Fire Outside Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, No Damage To Mosque, by Reuters. Reuters.