The Middle East conflict is also raging on social media. There are thousands of videos, especially on Tiktok, that spread propaganda from the warring parties. Israel and Hamas rely on different strategies.
The Middle East conflict has long since become a propaganda war. There are thousands of videos about this on X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, but especially on Tiktok. Eyewitness reports from the Gaza Strip, from civilians and soldiers, are accompanied by entertaining content and conspiracy stories from the warring parties. Why has the TikTok medium become so central to the spread of war propaganda?
Marcus Bösch is a media scientist and researches disinformation campaigns in online media at the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg. He has been involved with the Tiktok platform for several years. As with the war in Ukraine, propaganda in the Middle East conflict is part of his academic work. It’s not surprising to him that there are so many posts on Tiktokon this topic can be found on the platform, as he spoke to the star explained:
“Tiktok plays a major role in the spread of propaganda and misinformation; initially simply because the platform is used by 1.6 billion people, according to its own information.” The sheer size offers the opportunity to reach a lot of people in a short time. Creating posts for the video-based platform is much easier than for other social networks – they can therefore also be used to quickly and easily circulate propaganda content.
Middle East conflict has become a propaganda war on Tiktok
Clips are spreading rapidly on the Chinese platform, which was originally known for short dance videos or skits. Within a few hours they can reach millions of users and significantly shape the public’s view of the war. The reason for this is also the structure of Tiktok. In contrast to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, this no longer follows the principle of a social network. It is the first platform that is completely algorithm-driven and has broken away from the original social media concept of “I follow users and they follow me,” explains Bösch.
Content about the war in the Middle East is also shown to users who have previously shown no particular interest in the topic because the contributions are polarizing. In order to feed as many people as possible with their own propaganda content, Israel and Hamas rely on different strategies.
In his “Wartok” project, Bösch analyzed Tiktok posts from Russia and Ukraine at the beginning of the Ukraine war. Now he sees parallels in the war between Israel and Hamas: “An Israeli example of propaganda is very young, danceend, good-looking female soldiers – a huge phenomenon. These women are apparently incited by the IDF to make such videos.” The reason for this kind of entertaining war propaganda is obvious, according to the scientist: “We’re talking about the thousands of civilian victims who die in Gaza under deplorable circumstances Suddenly no one talks about why female soldiers dance happily during war.” A charm offensive and a perfect diversionary tactic, says Bösch.
Israel is apparently taking Ukraine as a model
The Ukrainian army after the invasion by Russian forces could be a direct model. Here, too, videos of dancing soldiers were circulated very early on with a clear message: “We are not afraid. In fact, we are so relaxed that we can still make dance videos on the battlefield.” This message was as useful to Ukraine as it is now to Israelis.
There are also videos that show the Israeli troops as heroic, modern and focused soldiers. They take Hamas’ attack seriously, but appear completely victorious and self-confident. The army’s state-of-the-art equipment can be seen again and again, from fighter jets to tanks that appear almost invincible.
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On the Palestinian propaganda side, a different emphasis is placed. Hamas and its supporters primarily use emotional images: destroyed houses in the Gaza Strip, desperate women and children. The Hamas narrative is that the Palestinians are in the misery of a situation through no fault of their own. What happened in the October 7 attack when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel, killing 1,400 people and kidnapping 240 hostages, On the other hand, it is not that bad or even orchestrated by Israel, says Bösch.
Hamas relies on guerrilla tactics
Hamas is pursuing a similar tactic digitally as on the battlefield: it uses civilians as protective shields. There are comparatively few videos of troop movements or combat operations by the terrorist organization on Tiktok. Her account was blocked just a few hours after the attack on Israel. Instead, Hamas propaganda is spread through countless small accounts that at first glance appear to be the accounts of private individuals. Many of these accounts are apparently supplied with material centrally; the same content can always be found posted on several accounts.
Hamas’s plan to destroy Israel is hardly discussed. Instead, the organization does everything it can to blur the line between the Palestinian civilian population and the militant group. Israel, the narrative goes, is not at war with Hamas, but with all Palestinians.
Whether through official accounts like Israel’s or as guerrilla tactics like Hamas, the propaganda from both sides is catching. While many users describe Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip as a “genocide” against the Palestinian civilian population and the murders and kidnappings of Hamas are hardly mentioned, others view the manner in which the Israeli attacks are carried out with little criticism or simply label them as self-defense.
Bösch therefore appeals to continually question content from both sides. According to the Tiktok researcher, it has become very difficult to immediately judge whether what you see on the Internet is really true.
“The media landscape in the 21st century looks completely different than in the 20th century. It is characterized by a multitude of voices. This can have advantages if you get multi-perspective eyewitness reports. But that can also be negative because actors can spread their messages unfiltered.”
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.