When it comes to Israel-Hamas war videos, don’t always trust what you see

Palestinians inspect the damage caused by an Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal area in Gaza City, October 9, 2023. Credit: Photo CC via Wikimedia Commons

Scroll through TikTok, Instagram, or X (formerly Twitter) any day and a barrage of grainy, chaotic videos paint a complex picture of the war between Israel and Hamas.

In one of them, a soldier is thrown to the ground during the explosion of a flaming bomb, victim of “the destruction of an Israeli tank during the Hamas attack”, the caption proclaims. Another, titled “Israel Tries to Create Fake Images of Deaths,” shows a boy lying in a pool of blood while a director shouts instructions and a videographer films. In a third, U.S. Marines exit a plane, allegedly arriving in Israel to join a ground war.

The problem: none of these clips, already viewed by millions of people around the world, represent this conflict. The first comes from a video game. The second is a behind-the-scenes shot from a short film, and the third is a video captured when the marines arrived in Romania for a celebration in April.

“Unfortunately, truth can be the first casualty of war,” said Sandra Ristovska, a professor of media studies in the College of Media, Communication and Information, who studies the use of images and videos in times of war and conflict.

Although many images of the war between Israel and Hamas are indeed real and some may play an important role in exposing human rights violations, Ristovska says people should view them with caution. Here, she offers her take on the role video plays in war and how not to be fooled on social media.

How has video, historically, been used to document conflicts?

Video has always played an important role in helping us understand human rights issues. But in the past, we didn’t have cell phones and most satellites were controlled by governments. For example, at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which investigated war crimes committed in the Balkans in the 1990s, human rights investigators had to ask governments for access to footage satellite. And the other videos they had to work with came from human rights activist groups, recording with old VHS cameras.

How have things changed?

Today we are witnessing a new generation of investigators. We now have commercial satellites that produce images accessible to anyone who dares to look at them. We have cell phones with cameras, making it possible for anyone, at any time, to make a video, and we have social media platforms where these images can be easily distributed to millions of people. Suddenly there is a wealth of video information that journalists, activists and investigators can use to investigate human rights violations under international law.

Many people are turning to TikTok to stay informed about this conflict. For what?

In times of conflict, people naturally turn to images to help them understand the complexity of what is happening. They provide evidence, but they also appeal to our emotions in a way that print does not. This happened during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and before that during the Arab uprising in Syria.

Now that Instagram and Tiktok are becoming the platforms of choice among many users, especially younger generations, video is becoming even more prevalent as the tool people seek to make sense of things.

What is the potential downside?

When a news organization publishes an article, it is ideally appropriate to contextualize the images, telling us what happened and when and ensuring that the image presented comes from the conflict described. With social media, videos often lack context and those lines become blurred. Even the most well-intentioned users can be caught sharing a video that purports to describe the current situation, but is actually from a different conflict or from a few years ago. People also tend to make assumptions about videos before all the facts are known, which can be dangerous.

For example, take the destruction of the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza on October 17: from the moment it happened, videos were circulating all over the media and on social media and people were shooting hasty conclusions by saying that it was Israel who did it. , or Hamas did it. At the same time, independent investigations by both the New York Times and the Washington Post have cast doubt on the video-based version of events presented by Israel and the United States. We still don’t know exactly what happened.

What kind of impact do these videos have?

We know from research by social psychologists that the first time we obtain information, visually, has the most impact. So, if the first time we see a video – say it’s mislabeled or out of context – it can influence us so much that later, even if we get the “facts” of the story, we may not believe it. -not be these facts. . This is the real danger.

What can journalists do to ensure these videos reflect reality?

To counter all this, investigators and journalists have abandoned the practice of relying on any piece of video as evidence and have begun to look at things more holistically. For example, for the Gaza hospital, the Israeli army, Al Jazeera and people on the ground released videos. Journalists and human rights investigators are examining them all to try to authenticate what happened and when. But we, as the general public, cannot be expected to do that.

What can people do to make sure they aren’t fooled?

More than ever, it is important that we do not allow ourselves to be swayed by a single piece of evidence. If we come across videos on TikTok or Instagram that resonate with us, we should avoid sharing them immediately, if at all, and instead turn to reliable news sources and human rights organizations to confirm that they are legitimate. We should also resist the urge to figure things out now and in the moment. Getting to the truth sometimes takes time.

Provided by University of Colorado Boulder

Quote: Q&A: When it comes to Israel-Hamas war videos, don’t always trust what you see (November 20, 2023) retrieved November 20, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/ 2023-11-qa-israel-hamas-war-videos-dont.html

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