Media Manipulation and Post-Truth Narratives: The Impact on Public Perception of the Siege in Gaza

  • Middle East Policy Council

    The Middle East Policy Council is a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational organization founded in 1981 to provide policymakers and the public with credible, comprehensive information and analysis on political, economic, and cultural issues pertaining to U.S.-Middle East.

George Lahoud 

George Lahoud is a junior at American University studying international relations with a focus in Middle Eastern and North African affairs and a minor in economics. He has interned at The Jerusalem Fund, a Palestinian-focused non-profit organization, and the Middle East Policy Council. 

Since Hamas’ attack on southern Israel took place on October 7, Israel has claimed that the complete destruction of Hamas is of utmost importance; after Israeli troops entered Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the military offensive will not end without the group’s eradication. It is increasingly clear that Israel does not just seek its complete organizational dismantling, but the discrediting of Hamas in the Western public eye as well. This prioritization of the public degradation of the group, shown through Israel’s rapid ad campaign on various social media platforms, is an example of the increasing normalcy of post-truth politics.  

“Post-truth” has been an emerging term over the last decade, having been named the “word of the year” by Oxford Dictionaries in 2016. The Oxford definition of post-truth is stated as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” However, Lee McIntyre, a philosopher who focuses on the phenomenon of post-truth, claims in his book Post-Truth that this definition only covers the “what” and not the “how.” McIntyre maintains that people engage in falsehood when they are “seeking to assert something that is more important to us than the truth itself.” He calls this a form of ideological supremacy, as its users are trying to get someone to believe something whether there is evidence for it or not. The Israeli government and its beneficiaries have been engaged with this concept heavily since the events of Hamas’s “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation.  

Many gruesome scenes have been revealed since October 7, where approximately 1,200 Israelis were killed and over 200 taken hostage and brought to the Gaza Strip. For example, one of the most gruesome stories from the initial attack was the reports that 40 babies had been decapitated by Hamas militants. These reports originated from Nicole Zedeck, a correspondent for the Israeli news outlet i24NEWS. Zedeck initially reported that her source was an IDF soldier who witnessed the aftermath; later, her report was changed to say that 40 babies and children were killed in the attack. These changing bits of unconfirmed information were later merged into one massive claim that Hamas had brutally decapitated these dozens of infants. Though still unconfirmed, such reports entered the news cycle and were being spread across social media platforms and networks by people with massive reach. Major news outlets that picked up the story included Business Insider, CNN, Fox News, and the New York Post.  

Prominent figures such as “Stranger Things” star Noah Schnapp posted on his Instagram account, reaching 25 million followers, that “40 babies were beheaded and burned alive in front of their parents by Hamas.” These false claims were not only regurgitated by celebrities, but prominent government officials: US Senator Ted Cruz mentioned the alleged story in a post on X. The US and Israeli governments both contributed to this claim, with Joe Biden going so far to say that “I never really thought that I would see and have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children.” Later, White House officials walked back the claim, stating that the pictures Biden saw were not confirmed. Tal Heinrich, a freelance news anchor appearing to have been drafted by Netanyahu on October 8 to assist with media relations, stated “Toddler, babies, I can tell you that some of them…yes, heads were cut off.” Similar to the situation with Biden’s public statement, the Israeli government asserted the next day that it could not confirm the report made by Netanyahu’s office. 

 Ever since the ground invasion of Gaza began, the Israeli government has been posting various videos on social media documenting alleged findings on the ground. Hospitals have been the center of attention in the domestic media, with Israel claiming that Hamas uses them as bases of operation, an argument that would make them legitimate military targets. Attempting to create legitimacy for this claim, IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari claimed to have found evidence of Hamas activity in Al-Rantisi hospital. In a video posted on the official Israeli government X account, he highlights a piece of paper posted on the wall as a schedule for guarding hostages. He claimed that “every terrorist has his own shift” for guard rotation. However, numerous journalists have pointed out that this piece of paper is just a calendar with the days of the week, with no sign of the Hamas captors’ names described by the Israeli spokesperson. The Israeli government later backtracked, claiming a translation error.   

The spread of misinformation also goes beyond the boundaries of Hamas to the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza in general. “Pallywood,” a combination the terms “Hollywood” and “Palestine,” is a derogatory term used to delegitimize the real scenes of Palestinian suffering by implying they are artificial or contrived. The term has seen a major resurgence since Israel’s campaign in Gaza began. One notable example of this weaponized phrase has been a young Gazan that has been documenting life in the Strip since October, Saleh Al-Jafarawi. Al-Jafarawi has been accused many times by various social media accounts of being a “crisis actor” working for Hamas. Pro-Israeli accounts have circulated misleading pictures of Al-Jafarawi allegedly in a hospital one day and walking around Gaza the next, claiming that he faked an injury to stage Palestinian suffering. The false accusation spread quickly on social media, with Israel’s official X account even sharing the story, though they deleted the post hours later when proved wrong.  

These instances of Israeli government channels circulating unconfirmed and false information work to hurt not only the public perception of Hamas, but also the Palestinian people as a whole. Why has the government risked sacrificing its validity in the public sphere by engaging in this sort of propaganda campaign? As stated by McIntyre, engaging in post-truth activity is a form of working to gain ideological supremacy. As these claims have been stated but not verified, Israel is signaling that it values the further demonization of Hamas and Palestinians more than the truth; an approach that may, to some, work to justify the military strategies that have already murdered more than 30,000 people. 

  • Middle East Policy Council

    The Middle East Policy Council is a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational organization founded in 1981 to provide policymakers and the public with credible, comprehensive information and analysis on political, economic, and cultural issues pertaining to U.S.-Middle East.

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