War as we are used to it, witnessed through old photos and history books, has come to an end. Social media has become an essential tool, used to provide information about recent conflicts.
Many activists have chosen to use their voices to spread awareness about various issues, however, as pretty much anyone with access to the Internet can publish content, there has been many claims of misinformation.
Recently, European Union has had a look into TikTok and Meta spreading false information about the Israel-Hamas war, requesting a response from both companies. Similar concerns surround X (Twitter) with its tendency to spread information fast and without verifying the sources. The organisations have been accused of harmful, manipulated images that show wrong information regarding the conflict. One example of that type of manipulation, not associated with the specific EU request, is a post that claimed to show Israeli helicopters being shot down by Hamas, when, in fact, it was footage from a computer game, Arma 3. As social media are quick to use and reshares are a common practice, such news can be spread immediately, dangerously ruining people’s perception of what’s real and what’s fake.
What’s also showing in this phenomenon of watching war through the lens of social media is the contrast between brutality, suffering, death and internet memes. Instagram has become a platform where simple, entertainment-based videos pop up next to images of suffering. Short attention span content often chooses headlines that are supposed to catch your attention, provoking an emotive response, therefore can have an enormous impact on someone’s personal opinions. Considering 4.9 billion people are now internet users, social movements that gather online, over such moving content, can quickly spread their message. That could be a positive role that social media has undertaken, depending on if the information source that they promote can be trusted.
However, the process of verification in times of war is tricky, even for the biggest news providers. When journalists cannot easily reach the place of war, various reports from events clash. On 17th of October, the explosion in Gaza hospital happened. News platforms such as New York Times have been quick to provide information spread by Hamas, that identified the rockets as coming from Israel. After some time passed, many of the Western media have changed their viewpoint, siding more with the explanation that the rockets actually came from Hamas. However, till this day it’s unclear who devastated the hospital as none of the sides have been providing clear evidence that the other one has done it. In places where human life is at risk, a profound investigation is not always the luxury that people can afford. That can be attributed to the very nature of war journalism, not only reports on social media.
The process of verification in times of war is tricky, even for the biggest news providers.
As organisations will do everything in their power to protect their agenda, you should bear in mind that you never know who hides behind the screen. You have to stop and think about the purpose of distributed content. Has the creator manipulated any facts so that they gain your immediate sympathy? Intent to verify the source for the statistics present on infographics and only reshare well-researched posts, rather than facts and videos that come from questionable sources.