User @flyingkikii’s argument is captivating; “Israel wants Palestine’s entire territory, so they kick out or kill Palestinians for it,” she claims in a comprehensive cartoon slideshow on TikTok, which reduces Israel’s thousands of years of history to a mere 22 slides and has garnered over one million likes. Amongst the propaganda masquerading as fact is the user’s claim that Hamas—who are recognized by the U.S. Department of State as a terrorist organization—is a resistance movement created solely to protect Palestine. The anonymous user, who provides no credentials that recommend an ability to educate others on Middle Eastern conflicts, nor any indication of higher education, also throws around the internet’s latest buzzword: genocide.
The most unsettling aspect of @flyingkikii’s post is its unoriginality. The same lies it’s perpetuating are plastered all over TikTok, Instagram, and every other social media platform. Moreover, the misinformation online is so overwhelmingly prominent, that it has become the baseline information for people without an ounce of prior education on the Israel-Palestine conflict. “Thank you for this, I was so confused about what Hamas is,” says a commenter on another “educational” post under TikTok’s “freepalestine” hashtag. One user on @flyingkikii’s post claims that “my teacher printed this slideshow and hung it up in their classroom to educate us.” According to Pew Research Center, almost one-third of U.S. adults under 30 years old and one-half of U.S. teens get their news from social media.
Misinformation in the form of propaganda has existed throughout history in order to muster support for one cause or the other, and often targets people’s preconceived biases, the ethos of current social climates, and fear, while eliciting emotional responses. In our history classes, we analyze the propaganda created by American Imperialists, and then at lunch time, indulge in the online conspiracy theories amplified by our favorite Instagram “influencers.” One reason that misinformation has found so much success in the 21st century is the belief in the “wisdom of the masses.” The blatant disregard for facts offered by experts in favor of the wisdom from a girl doing her skincare routine as she misconstrues a complex and multi-layered topic is a phenomenon whose cause is hotly debated amongst theorists. For some, the video is preferable since it is easily accessible (most people stumble upon it, and never do more research since they didn’t seek out the information in the first place). Others identify with the girl (based off of age, level of education, etc.) and enjoy the idea of people like themselves having all the answers. Whatever the cause, the concept that any person who speaks on an issue is well-versed in it has created a doom-cycle of actual history and facts being debated. Debated? Debated?! What happened to the Faith in Knowledge pulse of the progressive era? With so many people claiming expertise, facts can be muddled and the constant spinning of histories can make you sick.
Ultimately, misinformation thrives on social media. People can create anonymous accounts claiming to be professionals, and share harmful rhetoric without any consequences. This also provides an outlet to twisted individuals who will use political crises as a rationale for their hatred. Recently, Cornell University junior Patrick Dai used the student forum “Sidechat” to anonymously make threats against Jews as the Israel-Palestine conflict raged onward, and was less-than-promptly arrested. Platforms also use algorithms to pump users full of more and more one-sided information, based upon the kind of content they interact with. These algorithms give users—especially young people, who have experienced little diversity of opinion and environment beyond the sentiments of their hometowns—a false sense of the world, and encourages polarization, as issues are conveyed to be increasingly black-and-white and often hail back to partisan issues.
Misinformation surrounds us constantly, especially as we increasingly rely on social media and the internet for everyday tasks. It’s often difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, and to resist societal pressures to conform with the opinions of the masses, but we can find solace in education. I urge you to consult your history books, your teachers, and even grandparents who may have witnessed the birth of Israel and were living in parallel to relevant events. Only through truth can we dispel hatred and restore rational discourse.