Misinformation and personal bias run rampant in today’s media. This is no surprise when you consider the ways in which media consumption has changed and how news sources have attempted to keep up with consumers’ demand for personalization. Online algorithms personalize article recommendations and curate news feeds to display articles and sources the consumer is likely to agree with and support.
These suggested articles and posts sacrifice quality for increased internet traffic. With the hopes of increasing clicks, likes, and site traffic, news outlets have started to buy into the “attention economy.” Businesses have always competed for consumers’ attention, but in the digital age, the time spent on a site or app has become an increasingly important measure of success and profit. Since all of this information bombarding consumers on social media is largely unfiltered, unregulated, and unchecked, it has allowed misinformation to spread more quickly and reach a larger audience than ever before.
Social media intensifies the tunnel vision by offering its users a selection of accounts to follow based on posts the user has liked, shared, or interacted with. Because of this feedback loop, media consumers are presented with increasingly tailored — and biased — information and views. Traditional news outlets, such as television and newspapers, served as information gatekeepers; they determined which voices were shared. The rise of social media has given access to more people to create and share information, stories, and opinions. Sometimes this is inspiring and productive, but it has a dark side.
Recently, the amount of misinformation about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has spiked on social media. On May 10, Israel began Operation “Guardian of the Walls” after Hamas fired hundreds of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel. I was in Israel at the time; what scared me more than having to run to the bomb shelter in the middle of the night was the infographics and links I saw my friends in the U.S. sharing about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and its most recent flare-up. These widely shared and brightly colored memes were spreading completely false information about the founding of Israel, its present-day treatment of Arab-Israelis, Jewish history and beliefs, and even the history of the land itself.
In addition to posts, many people started to share links to news sites. These articles were often biased or offered incomplete information, furthering the spread of misinformation and intense hatred for Israel. At first, I noticed these infographics were simply factually inaccurate, but as time went on, I noticed the posts being shared became increasingly antisemitic. Posts were calling for an end to the state of Israel and all the Zionists that support its existence, which includes about 90% of Jews.
Old myths like the Elders of Zion were reformatted and reworded to fit modern-day issues, but I could still recognize the antisemitic myths behind the rhetoric. For example, one frequently shared post spoke about the “real reason” Jews wanted the land Israel sits on. It accused Jews of wanting nothing but the oil reserves on the land and stated that since Jews had such a heavy influence in the media, the real motivations behind having this land weren’t reported on or shared by news outlets. Posts also started using terms like “white colonialists” when referring to Israelis, painting them to be ethnically monolithic and racist colonizers of the land.
This rapid spread of misinformation has intense implications in the real world. Since the conflict in Israel and the increased sharing of anti-Israel articles and posts, the ADL has reported a dramatic spike in antisemitic incidents. This recent conflict in Israel has been a great example of the influence media, particularly social media, has over public perception. It has also shown that the increased speed at which information can be shared also speeds up the public’s reaction to social issues.
With all of this in mind, it is important for consumers to think twice about the type of media they are consuming. In an effort to broaden their perspective, consumers should visit a few news sites with varied opinions instead of just one, do extra research after seeing posts about political issues, find ways to be around people who hold different political views and try to be mindful of how news stories and social media could be changing their perception of the world.
The recent misinformation surrounding Israel and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has been difficult to handle for both Israelis and Jews around the world. We’ve seen how misinformation in the media has a tremendous impact on peoples’ opinions and sometimes actions. It has also held up a mirror to our own relationship with the media; showing just how vulnerable we all are to misinformation and outside influences. Recent events should serve as an important reminder to question our sources, spend time researching, and speak up when required.