Behind the Screens

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Words: Eva Mustapha (she/her)

Social media constructs meaning through imagery. It presents images and words which communicate symbolism to which we administer meaning. Everyone exchanges opinions or engages with content, but social media plays a significant role in our perceptions of events. We all go on social media every day; scrolling through Instagram is the new morning cup of coffee. If your social media feed looks anything like mine, then you will not have missed the increased attention given to the recent developments in the occupation of Palestine. The fast spread of current events continually shapes the way we interact with the world and the stories we see. The way we perceive and understand conflict is no different. 

The Israeli occupation of Palestine has been ongoing for 75 years now, but the recent addition of social media has expanded the war coverage more than ever before. Disinformation in the media purposefully emits lies – otherwise known as fake news, whereas misinformation is an accidental lie. The narratives of the conflict which have been skewed by misinformation and disinformation can be credited to the accessibility of social media. The fast-paced consumption of media allows propaganda and disinformation to be spread at an unprecedented rate. However, plaguing mainstream discourse with disinformation is not hard to achieve when one party is already staunchly vilified in Western discourse and media. 

In the past there was always a hesitation towards speaking about the conflict, as though there was a fear of saying the wrong thing. A large part of this is language which sets conclusive boundaries between pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. This gives birth to conflation. There are countless Instagram posts, reels, and Tik Toks which label pro-Palestinians as terrorists or as antisemitic. Or that if you are Jewish, you support Zionism. The recent bombardment of Palestine has been framed as an Israeli retaliation to Hamas attacks which is why the narrative of ‘pro-Palestine = pro-Hamas’ is circling social media. Due to imagery of the War on Terror and how Middle Eastern resistance is typically conveyed, the media depicts Hamas as a terrorist group. But Hamas was created as a resistance group to the Israeli occupation. No violence is ever justified, but the media’s portrayal of violence is essential in our understanding of conflict. The shackles of orientalism are bound tight around the worth we place on Palestinian lives. The absence of a ceasefire, even with social media and political uproar, demonstrates that. 

Just as harmful, however, is the narrative that ‘Zionism = Judaism’. Not only is this factually incorrect and incites acts of violence towards the Jewish community, it is the root justification of the genocide. It presents the support for Judaism as the support for Zionism, creating a black and white fallacy whereby not supporting the state of Israel renders you antisemitic. Weaponising the media momentum to satisfy unfounded violence neglects the longstanding resistance of Palestinians. An Israeli woman made a TikTok exemplifying such mockery in which she caricatured injured Palestinian women grieving the loss of their loved ones. Such shocking episodes of invalidation and mockery desensitise global viewers.  

Another component of the rapid availability of information on social media is that the constant storm of visuals and texts makes it difficult for people to empathise and engage with the reality of what they are seeing. It is as though all the posts and images merge, inhibiting viewers from digesting the media they are consuming. On the opposite spectrum of this lies the emergence of the citizen journalist. Social media amplifies the voices of victims and provides them with agency through documenting their lives in war-ridden zones. Videos of bombings and first-hand accounts of the war offer a new perspective to conflict that was previously unattainable: that of civilian victims. There is something to be said about the moral dilemma of consuming such horrors from the comfort of your bed, couch, or seat in the library. The guilt is immense. No matter how much of this war we witness, it is always through the safety of our screens. 

However, we mustn’t overlook the solidarity social media provides. Sharing posts and liking stories unites communities in the fight for liberation. Having myriad voices on social media is especially useful in exposing the bias of Western media and the basis of racism on which this conflict was founded. The portrayal of the resistance movement in Palestine is part of a wider issue of orientalism which affects all Middle Eastern and Arabic countries. Hamas is not only presented as a terrorist group because of their actions (while the same implication does not exist for Israel) but also because of the Western imagery of Middle Eastern resistance. Attempts of sovereignty in the Middle East are aligned with terrorism in the West. Sovereignty is not just political freedom and the right to self-govern. Sovereignty is also being able to represent yourself and control your own imagery; it serves the people, not just the ruler. Not being able to create its own image leaves Palestine more susceptible to distorted representation by foreign media. With the colossal amounts of news being released every day, more attention is drawn to the divide between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, rather than the right for Palestinians to exist. This leaves me reflecting on what visibility really means in this age of social media. Despite the vast scope of media coverage, the visibility it provides is dismissed by disinformation and systems of orientalism, and the voices of Palestinians are drowned. Social media is a political tool and will remain untruthful in order to dehumanise the Orient until it can write its own narrative. Fortunately, there are networks of people and citizen journalists wanting to provide agency to the civilians in this conflict and minimise the spread of disinformation. Although it is difficult to control media outputs, as many are run by conservative elites, we still have a responsibility to manage our consumption of media and fact check not only the information presented to us, but the imagery as well. We must assess our resources. We must remain vigilant.


Journalism and the visual politics of war and conflict by Lilie Chouliaraki (2009)

How Social Media Is Changing Conflict by T. Zeitzoff  (2017)

Combating disinformation in a social media age by Shu, K., Bhattacharjee, A., Alatawi, F., Nazer, T.H., Ding, K., Karami, M. and Liu, H. (2020)

Orientalism by E. Said (2003)

Image Politics in the Middle East: The Role of the Visual in Political Struggle by Lina Khatib (2013)

Synthetic Experiences: How Popular Culture Matters for Images of International Relations by J. Furman Daniel  and Paul Musgrave (2017)


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