Social media was and will continue to be a space for Palestinians to express their right to exist. This claim predates the more recent tragic events that unfolded throughout the past month, where online platforms such as TikTok provided Palestinians the ability to give an unfiltered view into their suffering. With a land that lacks any legitimate army, democratically elected leaders, or control over fundamental resources such as water and electricity, the internet remains one tool to remind the global population that the Palestinian people will not disappear. A bombing campaign that indiscriminately claims the lives of thousands of civilians has resulted in a mounting death toll that continues to rise without an immediate end in sight.
While some believe that the discourse surrounding the conflict should be held in-person, face-to-face, this cannot be the sole platform for such conversations to take place. In fact, this would be a disservice to the activists and victims whose lifelines depend on our commitment to keeping their stories alive online. First-hand accounts from Gazan activists like Plestia Alaqad help us to understand that while the war is happening thousands of miles away from us, the rising number of victims are not just numbers. Alaqad documents the daily struggles and realities of so many innocent children, women, and men displaced by the unending violence they are forced to endure. These are people with stories just like us, who need us to ensure that even if they are killed, their testimonies and lives will not be reduced to just another number. When these stories are preserved on the internet, they can send an undeniable message for future generations to reflect on what the Palestinian people went through, much faster than facilitated dialogue confined to a college campus.
One key point that I do agree with is regarding the overwhelming presence of misinformation online that threatens to deter this from happening. Additionally, there exists blatantly racist and anti-Muslim rhetoric weaponized by celebrities and notable personalities alike. In the last month alone, a number of celebrities including Justin Bieber and Jamie Lee Curtis were responsible for using images of Palestine and Palestinian children in an attempt to garner support for Israel. Subsequently, both individuals quickly deleted their posts, rather than taking the time to acknowledge the pain captured in those photos. Instead of trying to hide their mistakes from their millions of followers, they could have used this as an opportunity to clarify their intentions and educate themselves and their audience about the source of those images.
Amy Schumer is also responsible for using her influence to spread conspiracy theories about the conflict. In one of her posts, she indicated that Arab funding was being directed to universities, while in another she posted a cartoon which made a number of claims, such as reducing Gazans to rapists. Racist commentary like this has and will continue to proliferate the internet, especially when fueled by top officials and kept circulating on a number of peoples’ feeds. Using thinly veiled language to claim one side is noble, while the other is shrouded in barbarism that must be corrected, makes a call to orientalism and colonial rhetoric of the 19th and 20th centuries.
I acknowledge that this misinformation is a valid and growing concern, especially with the rise of other innocent people in different regions of the world being wrongly targeted due to the horrific events in recent weeks. However, with a population of nearly half of its people under the age of 18, stifling their voices or the surrounding public dialogue among the international community effectively turns a blind eye to their oppression.
Although I don’t have all of the expertise on staying immune against misinformation, there are several strong defenses at our disposal. These include reporting posts that look questionable, pushing for more accountability from platform leaders on monitoring suspicious accounts that encourage hateful rhetoric, and searching for multiple news sources and publications to verify the accuracy of claims being made. We can also continue to hold our government leaders accountable in making sure that they address rising antisemitism and Islamophobia throughout the country, whether it is clearly outlining and condemning hate crimes on individuals, or meeting with religious leaders to determine better security measures on places of worship or cultural centers.
While many of us may continue to feel helpless in preventing the death and destruction perpetrated against thousands of people, we can continue to use social media as a medium to call out bigotry and push for our leaders to orchestrate a ceasefire for humanitarian aid in the region. It is up to us as users of the Internet to not accept posts or stories circulating at face value, especially when we have the tools to dig deeper and learn more about their credibility.
Although social media has the power to become a weapon when used with ignorant or nefarious intentions, it also has the power to help people identify with the pain and systemic treatment of other groups like them. The internet is the place to amplify actions, such as boycotting companies that have implicitly taken sides in the conflict, organizing peaceful protests on a large scale, or sharing the numbers of elected representatives to call and demand accountability. To write off social media as a forum for political discourse altogether would be to write off the efforts of those calling out for help an ocean away, especially when we are privileged enough to use social media to educate ourselves and others.
As technology progresses, social media will continue to play a monumental role in the development of social issues and the spread of effective ways to combat injustice. Moving forward, we can demand for more effective tools to combat the spread of misinformation and hatred, while also recognizing that social media is not only a space for performative activism. To many, it can be a lifeline.
HANADI ABDULKADIR is a College sophomore studying international relations from Philadelphia. Her email is email@example.com.