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Social Media Disinformation Fueling the Flames, Especially Against Palestinians

Right-wing groups and individuals in India are willing to attach themselves to any possible ideology that dominates or harms Muslims, even if it contradicts their inherent sympathy for ideologies like Nazism

– Shayma S

From videos taken from gameplay simulations to old videos from Syria to screengrabs from Netflix shows and short films, social media is abuzz with fake videos, misinformation as well as active disinformation, particularly the kind that is fueling more hate against Palestinians and the Hamas resistance.

A screenshot of X user Hadi Nasrallah’s post debunking the claim that Palestinians have raped Israeli women in the current outbreak of violence

 

Viral claims about Hamas fighters beheading babies, raping women, and putting children in cages have spread like wildfire.

Many of these claims are also emerging from fake and anonymous accounts from India, especially those who otherwise claim allegiance to right-wing ideologies. Other claims include that Hamas buys its weapons from Ukraine, a fact that should be debunked self-explanatorily, as the Ukraine government is outrightly supporting the Zionist cause at present.

Then, there are layers of disinformation within disinformation. BOOM Live, the fact-checking website revealed how a scene from a Palestinian short film Empty Place is being shared on social media with a false claim that it shows Palestinians staging a scene using child actors to show Israeli soldiers killing children. Boom also added that “the same video is being shared by several right-wing Indian X users with the same false claim.” The scene is from Palestinian short film Empty Place based on the story of imprisoned Palestinian Ahmed Manasra.

Credit: Boom Live

X, formerly Twitter, is now the undisputed go-to social media platform for users to obtain first-hand, real-time information about big political developments. Its short, crisp format coupled with the possibility of integrating clips and photos has made it a hub for journalists and citizens across the world to quickly put information out in the world. As is often seen, when people feel an earthquake, they first go to X to check whether what they felt was really an earthquake or not. That is the upside of the platform. But over the years, disinformation has taken over with alarming speed. This has not been helped by the ascendance of Elon Musk, who has done little to counter this and his mismanagement of a popular platform has led many people to leave it due to the huge population of trolls and anon accounts.

In the latest outbreak of violence between Palestine and Israel, this has been truer than ever. Videos, clips, screenshots – it is a free-for-all, with little verification. While the platform has allowed the besieged Gazans a voice as they face increasingly terrifying bombing and the cutting off electricity, it has also led to the mass participation of right-wing accounts, especially from India, who are especially keen to throw their support behind Israel. In fact, many of them unironically support both Adolf Hitler and the Jews, all in one breath. They have been repeatedly extending their support to Israel, to the extent that this tendency has been noticed and humorously mocked on social media platforms by users of other countries as well.

Without expensive blue tick marks, news outlets are struggling to reach audiences, even if their news is credible. As Justin Peden, a researcher told WIRED, there is a marked difference between the time he covered Gaza in 2021 during the escalation of violence and today, because he is finding it much harder to authenticate the source of information and distinguish between what is fake and what is actually relevant ground reporting.

“It’s getting incredibly hard to find people that actually live in Palestine or in southern Israel,” Peden told WIRED. “You have this perfect storm where on the ground, preliminary sources are not being amplified, especially those that maybe don’t speak English, which is a large majority of users in that area.”

From videos that claim that the superstar footballer has supported Palestine, to firecrackers being passed off as rockets, there is an unstoppable barrage of ‘news’ that really isn’t. With blue ticks being up for sale, for a price, anyone can claim to be authentic and, on the ground, passing off fake news as fact. This is further fuelled by the fact that blue tick accounts are eligible for monetization of their posts.

If one were to repost a particularly egregious or problematic post, as is often done to condemn or criticise it, the original owner of the post still earns money off it. Forbes has compiled a partial list of posts on X about the conflict that are in fact, fake. While Zionist accounts run amok still, many social media companies, including X, have banned Hamas-affiliated accounts and politicians.

X is known to easily bow under government pressure as it has done so in the past with the Indian government being one of the most common offenders with regards to demanding censorship of posts. It is also true that there has been a degree of misinformation from Palestinian-affiliated accounts with regards to possible attacks by Zionist forces, such as a wrongly labelled video of a mosque being demolished which turned out to be from Syria. Ironically, the video was shared – by right wing accounts in India, including by a BJP UP spokesperson – in a mocking and celebratory way, with the caption that Israel should have at least allowed the azaan to complete. @MrSinha_, a known right-wing account also shared a video claiming it was of a Muslim chanting Allahu Akbar and beheading a boy, which also turned out to be a video from Syria.

Accidental misinformation, and even deliberate disinformation in the era of social media is common in times of conflict, as well as heated political issues, even within India. However, what is unique about the current wave of active disinformation, is how a decades long conflict, and the gruesome reality of the occupation of Palestinian people in what is effectively an open-air prison, is being used for domestic politics.

A screenshot of activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan’s post on X, commenting on the affinities between Zionism and Hindutva

The enthusiastic way the right-wing has taken up the cause of Israel and Zionism would be laughable if it were not so outright cruel, in a time when many Gazans do not even know if they will live to see another morning. It has long been understood that there are many parallels between Hindutva and Zionism – especially in their dual character to both play exemplary victims (and always, victims of alleged Muslim violence or presence), as well as promote a rather muscular, dominant and all-powerful image. But this latest chapter shows that right-wing groups and individuals in India are willing to attach themselves to any possible ideology that dominates or harms Muslims, even if it contradicts their inherent sympathy for ideologies like Nazism.

From the X account of Sidhant Sibal, covering the press conference by Israel Ambassador in New Delhi
A screenshot of a Zionist Telegram channel where people are reacting to photos of dead Palestinian infants with positive emojis, while on X, the unverified word is that Hamas Telegram channels are supporting rape of women & children – with no proof to this effect
Keith Woods, a free speech activist, argues that Zionist disinformation is spreading across X
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