Attention: This article presents examples of disinformation and propaganda, which may include false or manipulative content. Links to sources for these materials are intentionally omitted to avoid contributing to the spread of propaganda. The author's focus is not on measuring the quantity of propaganda but rather on assessing its quality. It is recommended to read the initial article on the 5 aims of disinformation.

1. Propaganda is not only in Hebrew or Arabic.

It seems that everyone agrees on one thing regarding Israel and Hamas: there is a significant amount of (dis)information efforts from both sides. The upcoming elections in the USA and tensions in the EU or Arabic states indicate that the war front extends beyond the Gaza Strip, spreading across electorates and borders. This is done to establish who is right and who is considered the "good side". There is no mutual agreement even on the number of casualties, as the provided figures are often considered dubious. The suffering of civilians from both sides is downplayed or even deemed unworthy of attention. Unfounded claims that individuals harmed or killed in the conflict were only pretending to have been widely circulated. Propaganda efforts are not solely directed at supporters from Gaza or Israel; they also, at times predominantly, aim to demobilize opponents or persuade those in the middle. Their goal is to influence populations of powerful allies and alter the attitudes of decision-makers and other stakeholders.

2. Propaganda leads to violence. Do not support it.

First and foremost, it is essential to recognize that propaganda is not innocent; its purpose is to justify violence, including the killing of human beings. When successful, it can be highly effective in fueling hatred and violence against specific minorities. This was evident in the case of the Brooklyn synagogue, where news about a tunnel underneath it, led to widespread claims on social media, alleging its use for child sex trafficking or organ harvesting. This misinformation resulted in an incident where 12 men forcibly entered the tunnel and, ultimately, the synagogue, with violent and antisemitic intentions.

Propaganda has the potential to cause harm and even lead to loss of life. To me, it is a form of violence, and sharing, liking, or commenting on it contributes to the viral spread of violent intentions.

3. Propaganda uses only one, selected source of information.

Be cautious when reading the news. It may feature quotes from various figures such as a president, ambassador, soldier, journalist, or even a rabbi or imam. What's crucial to understand is that, even if it appears to present diverse and "different" perspectives, it often does not give a voice to those holding genuinely different, non-accepted viewpoints. Typically, it's relatively easy to identify when information is one-sided. What becomes more challenging is recognizing the strategy of "selective reporting," where media outlets or social media materials meticulously choose quotes from "the other side." They also provide context, placing specific voices toward the end of an article or video, making it less likely for most viewers to pay attention. Therefore, it's crucial to check the titles and leads of the materials you encounter.

4. Propaganda is susceptible to fact-checking.

Propaganda materials often employ false or manipulated content. Simple fact-checking methods can quickly reveal their true intent. To efficiently fact-check information, you don't need to be a professional journalist or analyst. When you come across a material that raises a red flag, ask yourself these questions:

  • What happened? When? Where? If you cannot answer one of these questions, it might indicate biased material.

  • Who is behind the information you are receiving? What evidence do they provide? What do other, more reliable sources like Reuters or AP News say?

  • What about images? Remember that pictures from the past conflicts have been incorrectly attributed to recent events, serving various political purposes. Tech4Peace verified a set of photos claiming to depict the current conflict but found they were actually from different conflicts. Therefore, it is crucial to learn how to verify images.

Last but not least – even information labeled as "factchecked" may be questionable if the sources are not thoroughly disclosed.

5. Propaganda uses our own emotions

"Passed away" rather than "was killed" or "murdered." "Ruthless terrorists" instead of "soldiers" or "politicians." "Beheaded babies" rather than "infant casualties." Depicting a crying victim, with bloody tears, such as a young girl or teenager in a soldier uniform. There are various ways to manipulate our emotions and shape our perception of the situation. Orwell termed it "Newspeak" and accurately portrayed the efforts of war propaganda in his novel "1984." Be cautious about your emotional response when reading or watching news about the Israel-Gaza war. Remember that even exaggerated descriptions of war crimes have been employed to evoke public sentiment as a means of justifying ongoing military operations.

6. Propaganda feeds your own narrative

Usually, algorithms know which side you sympathize with, and they will provide you with content you like. This can be very misleading and lead you into a fallacy called "confirmation bias," making you favor information that aligns with your pre-existing beliefs or sympathies. That's why it's crucial for you to recognize that individuals sharing content online often have specific agendas. If you seek accurate information, you should always carefully select multiple news sources.

7. Propaganda builds distrust

Even if some pieces of information are proven to be true, appearing well-justified and fact-checked, remember that one of the aims of propaganda is to instill a sense of distrust. One media outlet or Instagram fan page may share factual information, just to later share the next three pieces, which are manipulated. This lowers your trust in the publisher or the side they want to portray negatively.

8. Government information

Exercise caution with any information presented by official sources, whether it's from the Israeli government, Hamas, or the Palestinian Authority. If you notice media outlets quoting this information without any comment or doubt, make sure to fact-check everything and be cautious.

9. Meta, Twitter or TikTok are not here to inform

Remember that social media is not a reliable source of information. Despite Elon Musk's claim that Twitter would probably prevent genocide in Auschwitz, social media platforms are designed to generate revenue for their owners, and algorithms will prioritize content that brings them financial gain.

In the next and last article of this series, I will show you how to combat disinformation, how to take care of yourself in a world full of bad news, and suggest the types of sources you can rely on.

About the author:

Karol Wilczyński, Ph.D. - writer and teacher. He works at Jagiellonian University where he teaches Migration, Political Issues of the Middle East, and Islamophobia. He publishes on his Instagram: @wilczynski.karol

Background photo: Fires in Israel and the Gaza strip - 7 October 2023 by Pierre Markuse. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2023], processed by Pierre Markuse (CC BY 2.0).