While conflict in the Gaza Strip intensifies, media outlets have begun to highlight the new form that information warfare has taken.
As each side attempts to take control of the narrative, campaigns of misinformation (the use of inaccurate information) and disinformation (the use of false information) to mislead, have become a valuable tactic in the war over public opinion.
These campaigns have primarily occurred on platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter (now known as X).
The power of information cannot be understated, as the public’s perceptions are constantly moulded and remoulded through their daily interaction with these platforms. Social media inundates users with videos, infographics, updates and opinions that claim to explain the motivations, plans and day-to-day happenings of the conflict.
This constant flow of media makes it challenging to question what is real and what is false.
The priority of short-form content lends to simplified, bite-sized narratives. At best, these narratives allow people to digest a conflict and instigate action. At worst, they compel people to develop reductionist, provocative takes that feed the social-media algorithm.
As time passes, these bits of information and perceptions begin to shift and rearrange as new information vies for supremacy. Despite the information overload, people are encouraged to keep up within the flow of media so as not to get left behind.
At best, social media allows marginal voices to be amplified to the public, which was the case during the Arab Spring of 2010-12. Activists on the ground can share information and take control from biased news outlets and state media.
The problem comes as social media also allows bad actors to gain legitimacy. The equal legitimacy given to those living through conflicts, state media, bad actors and trolls makes discerning fact from fabrication a challenging ordeal.
The structure of social-media platforms, especially Twitter following Elon Musk’s rollback of moderation standards of the platform, does not base its content on legitimacy or credibility. Instead, it feeds on sensationalism, controversy and feedback loops.
It’s formidable to remain critical of these narratives – and discerning the intentions of any given poster behind the guise of social-media handles and potentially false bios is impossible.
In the past, critiquing dominant narratives was a relatively straightforward process. Control of information was the domain of news outlets or state media, sources often with apparent interests.
But, in the digital age, anyone and everyone has a say in forming the narrative. Discerning the intentions of these sources, if they have any, is an almost unfeasible feat.
We are left in a state of hyperreality, where claims, whether false or true, blend together, generating feelings of apathy and inertia.
The truth is a powerful phenomenon, representing the collection of events, supposed intentions and narratives people use to determine what to do next.
Remaining critical of the truth as social media platforms hand it to users on a digital platter requires constant questioning of who this truth serves and who this truth hurts. It also requires critiques of the platforms that bring the news, how they are designed, how they are overseen and how people interact with them.
Patrick Harney is the comments editor at The Uniter.
Published in Volume 78, Number 08 of The Uniter (November 2, 2023)