Israel-Gaza conflict: Social media becomes the latest battleground in Middle East aggression – but beware of propaganda and misinformation

Some of the pictures of violence circulated on the #gazaunderattack thread have been found to be recycled images from as long ago as 2007

Media Editor

The Twitter hashtag #gazaunderattack, which emerged as Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against the Palestinian territory earlier this month, was founded on the presumption that news media are failing to report the story.

Graphic violent images of civilians under fire were posted in large numbers, suggesting that news organisations were turning a blind eye to the attacks. “The media are not reporting anything,” was the hashtag’s catch line.

But social media, especially in its treatment the Middle East, has become a minefield of propaganda and misinformation.

Analysis by Abdirahim Saeed of BBC Arabic found that some of the pictures of violence circulated on the #gazaunderattack thread were recycled images from as long ago as 2007. Some were not even from Gaza at all but showed events from the ongoing conflict in Syria. Many of the pictures have since been widely distributed as the subjects of thousands of retweets.


“I didn’t expect to get over 1800 retweets, I didn’t actually know that the picture was recycled,” one 16-year-old Twitter user told the BBC. “People don’t need to take it as a literal account. If you think of bombs going off, that’s pretty much what it looks like.”

READ MORE: Three Israelis admit burning Gaza teenager to death
EU pushes for ceasefire but Israelis back Netanyahu
Palestinian families return home in defiance of threats

Chris Hamilton, social media editor at the BBC, said media organisations were having to use reverse image search facilities – which show if a photo has previously been published online - to determine the provenance of pictures.

“There are so many images and video of attacks and explosions and people stumbling from the wreckage of buildings,” he said. “When you talk about verification people think of fakes and hoaxes but actually what we are seeing a lot now is images or video that’s real but is not from the incident that it’s purported to be.”

READ MORE: Military drone from Gaza shot down over Israel
Middle East debate is more about fashion for revolutionary tourism than real politics

Social media has become one of the weapons of war. The Israeli Defence Force, which has been on Twitter since 2009, now has 286,000 followers. During violence in 2012, the Hamas military wing set up its own @AlqassamBrigade account to trade threats with the IDF. Twitter shut the account down earlier this year but the nature of social media means that the propaganda war is open to everybody and sources of information are increasingly difficult to determine.

Video: Israeli air strikes have killed 177 lives so far

In the student union of a private university in the Israeli coastal city of Herzliya, a “Hasbara war room” has been set up as a contribution to the military effort. Hasbara literally means “explanation” but has also come to signify propaganda. Up to 400 students sit at banks of computers getting Israel’s message out online. “The goal is to deliver a very clear message to people abroad – Israel has the right to defend itself,” Lidor Bar David told Israeli news website, Ynet.

“Although they haven’t been called up to the army yet, they’ve decided to enlist in a civilian mission that is no less important,” reported Ynet.

The students – speaking in 30 languages – target online forums while aiming to appear as ordinary social media users. They lobby Facebook to take down pages which incite violence against Israel and circulate drawings of Hamas rockets made by traumatised Israeli children living close to Gaza.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower