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The Disinformation on Palestine Project 

NEWS

Written by Caeden Tipler (they/them) | @ceadentipler | News Editor



Social media has been the place to go to understand what is happening in Palestine. Facebook, Instagram, and X (formerly Twitter) are where we can see Palestinian journalists such as Motaz Azaiza and Hind Khoudary report on the Gaza Strip live from the rubble. Instagram stories - not news alerts, have become the most efficient way to gain information on what is happening in Palestine. There is a noticeable stark absence of coverage of Palestine from our news media outlets. 


Part of this is a noticeable lack of coverage on the pro-Palestine protests we’ve seen in Aotearoa. It would be hard to tell from our major news outlets that thousands have turned up in support of Palestine every weekend since October 7th in Tāmaki Makaurau. Information, photos, and videos on these protests are pretty much relegated to Instagram. The most popular coverage we have seen has not been on the voices of those calling for an end to the genocide, but on the criticism of the chants used (“i.e. “from the river to the sea”). In fact, we’ve barely seen any news call it a “genocide”, despite the broad usage of this term online and affirmation that Israel is legitimately committing genocide by the International Court of Justice.


But when we rely on social media to tell the stories of genocide, we risk an increase in the spread of disinformation - something The Disinformation Project has paid special attention to. The Disinformation Project is an independent research group focused on disinformation (intentionally false information spread to deceive, as opposed to misinformation - which can spread through misunderstanding and mistakes) and its impacts in Aotearoa. They’re well known for their work publishing reports on topical issues such as disinformation around trans communities and the COVID-19 pandemic. In October last year, they shared a research report on the disinformation on Israel/Palestine we saw online after the October 7th Hamas attack. 


There’s one part of the report that was highlighted by well-known Palestinian-New Zealander and activist Tameem (@TameeOliveFern.) Tameem tweeted one section that stated “portraying Palestinians as victims” is disinformation, despite the verified reports of the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. Tameem says this is one example of an issue he had with the report, amongst other issues such as their “lack of focus on Zionism as a settler-colonial idealogy and the role of disinformation in its propaganda” and the report's “silence on 76 years of Israeli oppression before October 7th.”


Tameem told Debate what he thinks should have been included in the report instead of this line. He emphasised there’s been no accountability for media with independent status aligning themselves with an official Government position on Palestine without question. Tameem says this is part of a broader “dehumanisation of Palestinians” and that the Disinformation Project report was especially disappointing because they could’ve played a role in “dismantling the Zionist propaganda but instead [they also] towed the colonial state, New Zealand, line.”


Nicole Skews-Poole, a spokesperson for The Disinformation Project has said they have amended their report and changed the wording of the highlighted section. Skews-Poole said the criticism came from “a poorly worded summary of Telegram groups co-opting the victimhood of Palestinians.” 


The Disinformation Project is continuing to focus on “the sharing of graphic violent content, which has grown” and the “emerging theme” of antisemitic and Islamophobic rhetoric we have seen online through the process of stereotyping and reducing entire religious groups. 


The spread of disinformation seems to come down to a key issue; for better or for worse, people are learning about the issue from unchecked social media pages, or media that simply repeats Government lines. If the online space is leading to more extremism, it should be up to our mainstream media to step up their investigative coverage of Palestine. Especially when the accountability mechanisms, such as The Disinformation Project, inadvertently end up adding fuel to the fire. 


This is something pro-Palestine activists, including speakers at the March 9th protest in Tāmaki Makaurau, are calling for. Speakers such as Rahaf Gouda described the news “as propaganda” and called for the media to better focus on what is happening in Gaza. At the protest there was a 1News microphone recording the speeches, and a media drone in the sky. The media themselves prove they can be present - they just aren’t letting coverage reach front-page news.


Reports like that from the Disinformation Project show that if news outlets step up their coverage on Palestine, they will inevitably receive backlash: accusations of antisemitism, empty threats from politicians, and very real threats from advertisers. But the industry is already struggling despite the lack of reporting on Gaza. While there’s risk of adding fuel to the fire, the fundamental point of journalism is lost when you prioritise job security over the lives of others. 


The famous quote on Journalism from Jonathon Foster goes “If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it is not your job to quote them both. It’s your job to look out the window and find out which is true.” As the cracks of polarisation only deepen, we now more than ever need our newsrooms looking out the window. Part of the solution against online disinformation could be to platform well-researched journalists like Motaz and Hind in mainstream media outlets. These reporters are reaching pro-Palestine supporters and believers in a free democracy regardless - mainstream newsrooms must now decide whether they will support their fellow journalists, or prioritise the smithers of job safety they have left.

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