Daily Review: The Israel-Hamas Information War

Daily Review: The Israel-Hamas Information War
The Telegram and X mobile apps and other apps displayed on a smartphone screen, Aug. 15, 2023, Brussels, Belgium (Photo by Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via AP).

Today at WPR, we’re covering how the Israel-Hamas war could fuel conflict in Egypt and domestic politics in wartime Ukraine.

But first, here’s our take on today’s top story.

Israel-Gaza: Since launching a massive cross-border attack into Israel over the weekend, the militant group Hamas has been seeding violent videos and graphic images of the groups’ attacks on Israelis on social media, particularly on Telegram and X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, the New York Times reports.

In response to the spread of this content, X owner Elon Musk has already received a warning letter from an EU commissioner regarding disinformation being spread on the platform in violation of the EU’s Digital Services Act, while the U.K.’s technology secretary summoned social media executives to demand the removal of violent content from their platforms. (Financial Times; The Guardian)

Our Take: As with all conflicts, the battles between Israel and Hamas on the ground are now being followed by battles over the information landscape. Hamas’ seeding of violent content on social media is in many ways a military tactic, designed to attack Israeli morale and increase the deterrent leverage of the Israeli hostages the group is holding. They have taken advantage of the lack of content moderation on X and Telegram specifically in order to weaponize social media.

Israel’s security forces, too, have long used social media to shape global perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to demoralize its adversaries and maintain support from its allies, and it continues to do so regarding its airstrikes and operations in Gaza.

The broader battle over information relates to the narratives surrounding the war. Almost immediately after Hamas’ attack over the weekend, observers and proxy supporters began debating how the war should be framed—why the fighting is happening, who is to blame and what tactics are justified. Many of those debates, however, ignore the laws of war that apply to the conflict.

Because this current conflict takes place against the backdrop of recent moves in Europe to regulate social media, the information war surrounding it has also highlighted the diverging norms of individual free speech rights that are now being applied to these global platforms across different jurisdictions, whether over disinformation in the case of the EU or online harms in the case of Great Britain. That could very well have a significant impact on the real-world conflict taking place in Gaza, while also shaping future debates over social media regulation.

More context from WPR:

  • Charli Carpenter examined three myths related to the laws of war during the 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas.
  • Kate Jones looked at the U.K.’s efforts to regulate social media to minimize online harms.
  • And Emily Taylor and Kate Jones explained why the U.S. and EU need a coordinated approach to regulating social media.
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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was renewed with fighting against Hamas in Gaza, a territory near Egypt.

Egypt Could End Up Being a Casualty of the War in Gaza

The attack in southern Israel this weekend by Hamas and other militant Palestinian factions from Gaza has delivered another shock to a fragile global order. While the immediate focus will be on the war between Israel and Hamas, the fighting has the potential to fuel further conflict across the Middle East.

There is widespread awareness of the risk of the war spreading to include Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, in particular. But as columnist Alexander Clarkson writes, there is a worrying lack of attention to the potential impact of the war in Gaza on Egypt, especially if one considers how multifaceted the risks facing Egypt are.

Politics Is Making a Careful Comeback in Wartime Ukraine

When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, members of Ukraine’s parliament overwhelmingly approved the introduction of martial law. After the vote, it was also understood that domestic political divisions would be put aside until the end of the fighting.

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has dealt with domestic issues like corruption and democracy.

But as Ukraine fast approaches its third year of all-out war, flickers of domestic politics have begun to reappear.

As Amanda Coakley writes, that has created a new challenge for Ukrainian members of parliament who want to ensure accountability without undermining the war effort, at a time when support from Western allies is being thrown into question.

We want to hear your take on the issues we cover. We’ll select one person from those who answer the question below to receive a free month of full access to WPR.

This week’s question: Last week, the United Nations Security Council authorized a multinational armed mission to Haiti. Can this mission turn around Haiti’s security crisis?

For more context: Read columns on the mission and its chances of success by James Bosworth and Charli Carpenter.

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