The social media world is engulfed in a fog of war, which exacerbates concerns over language, headlines, and picture selection.
Online, big, well-known news outlets that are loosely grouped together as “mainstream media” are frequently characterised as villains. Online disinformation mills are fueled by the notion that the “mainstream media” follows specific “agendas” and disseminates politically expedient ideas and flagrant falsehoods under the guise of “things. The dominant media will never inform you.” This refrain on social media is consistent with studies showing a loss in trust in traditional news outlets.
With the reopening of the fault lines in West Asia, the mistrust is becoming more apparent. For instance, a headline from The New York Times first claimed that the explosion and fire at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza on Tuesday were the result of an Israeli attack. After being changed to exclude any reference to Israel, the headline attracted a lot of criticism on the internet. The first title was interpreted as proof that the newspaper was biassed in favour of information that came from the Palestinian side. Interestingly, The New York Times is perceived as supporting Israel and its policies among social media groups that advocate for Palestine.
When one of the BBC’s early social media posts on the current violence said that many Palestinians had “died” and many Israelis had “killed,” the BBC in the United Kingdom was put in a similar situation. A Palestine supporter used the statements as evidence of the pro-Israel bias of Western media in a viral video. Meanwhile, the BBC was perceived as biassed in favour of the Palestinian cause among pro-Israel quarters. As to a report in The Guardian, the BBC has received over 1,500 complaints so far concerning their coverage of the ongoing conflict. The complaints are evenly divided between those claiming a pro-Israel and pro-Palestine bias. This brings to mind the saying shared by many seasoned journalists: “If both sides are not happy, we are doing something right.”
The fog of war that shrouds social media exacerbates these problems with language, headlines, and picture selection. This is especially true for the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has been raging for decades or even centuries, dividing opinion worldwide and requiring its own lexicon pertaining to rights and territory. A newsroom runs a very high risk of making a mistake in the rapidly evolving context of an armed conflict, which frequently reinforces preexisting notions of prejudice. Algorithm-driven platforms, where articles are usually read as independent items rather than as parts of a whole, are another factor contributing to the sense of bias. The “whataboutism” and “both-sideism” that have turned into the scourge of internet political discussions are frequently the result of this pattern of news intake.
It should be mentioned that TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube are the main visual platforms for social media. They make it easier to see content again and promote quick reactions like likes, shares, and comments. The continuous bloodshed in Israel is also quite visually striking, combining real-world film of missile strikes and their aftermath with computer-generated material, including scenes from video games. People who no longer trust the “mainstream media” are more likely to go online for unfiltered footage and photos that lack the context and in-depth analysis that only competent journalism can offer.
-Dr. Abhishek Verma