Social media fuels polarization in Israeli-Palestinian conflict
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Social media fuels polarization in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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Polarization of opinions in political issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being directly promoted and fueled by social media, NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights said on Monday.

A report, titled “Fueling the Fire: How Social Media Intensifies US Political Polarization – And What Can Be Done About It,” by NYU Stern’s Paul M. Barrett, Justin Hendrix and J. Grant Sims, found and analyzed several instances of political polarization being driven by the use of social media, both in the US and internationally.

The report noted misinformation, in the form of videos, images and texts, on both sides of the conflict was shared on Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, WhatsApp and Youtube.

For example, a message allegedly shared via popular Israeli WhatsApp groups stated that “Palestinians are coming” and that parents should “protect their children” from the approaching Palestinian mob.

In the same week, a message sent to a large Palestinian WhatsApp group warned ahead of an IDF invasion of the Gaza Strip, claiming Israeli soldiers were already on their way. The report states neither of those messages carry any factual basis.

The report also found that Facebook and Twitter wrongly blocked or restricted millions of mostly Pro-Palestinian posts, due to their automated content moderation systems.

Senior Facebook executives spoke with Israeli and Palestinian officials to discuss how their content-removal algorithm affected the conflict and even went as far as to establish a ‘special operations center’ in Israel, with both Arabic and Hebrew speakers monitoring content that violates the rules of the site.

The report found that most pro-Palestinian posts were removed by Facebook and Twitter because they included words such as “martyr” and “resistance,” which trigger the algorithms and are interpreted as signaling calls to violence.

Social media: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok (credit: Courtesy)

This caused many Palestinians to claim to have experienced an ‘unjustified degree of censorship’ on social media platforms.

The report states Israel’s proficient cyber units flag large quantities of hateful and violent content from Palestinians, which causes an imbalance as Palestinians lack these methods of combatting disinformation on social media.
“Social media didn’t create today’s hatred, but it intensifies the problem,” said Paul M. Barrett, one of the report’s authors. “The consequences of polarization range from a loss of faith in democracy to the sort of political violence we saw during the insurrection at the Capitol,” he added.

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