Photo: Mahmud Hams Agence France-Presse
The video released by Facebook on October 11 shows unbearable images of a young woman lit like a torch in front of a crowd that lets it happen. The caption asks: “Is there a people more disgusting, more hateful and more savage than these? They burned alive a 14-year-old girl captured in Israel. »
Unbearable atrocities were indeed committed by Hamas terrorists on October 7 and perhaps thereafter. However, this unspeakable crime is not one of them since the terrible images of the tortured young woman were in fact filmed in Guatemala in 2015.
“There is a lot of misinformation and it is probably even the conflict where we see the most disinformation at the moment, more than what we have seen elsewhere in any case,” says Fanny Tan, researcher in residence and coordinator at the Observatory of Multidimensional Conflicts of the Raoul-Dandurand Chair of UQAM. “There are so many we can’t keep up. While doing my research, I can come across information and two hours later, see it debunked[debunked] by another site. »
Disinformation is made with the objective of deceiving the receiver, while misinformation circulates false information that the sender believes. “Both cases are found in this war,” Ms Tan notes. The false information comes from both camps, but also from other actors who are difficult to identify, coming from anonymous accounts. »
New or old images captured everywhere by any means (satellites, surveillance cameras, phones and even GoPros found on Hamas attackers) can be manipulated and broadcast on countless media and social networks. Fanny Tan even cites cases of video game captures being diverted for disinformation.
A digital fog
In short, a “fog of electronic warfare” now surrounds the hostilities between Hamas and Israel, according to the expression coined recently in an analytical text from the Reuters agency. The fog of war, borrowing a German formula (Nebel des Krieges) from theorist Carl von Clausewitz, designates the absence or uncertainty of information for the participants in an armed conflict.
< p>The deadly tragedy of the explosion at the Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza on October 17 concentrates this tangled situation where opaque layers overlap to make the situation, for the moment, indecipherable. The militant group Hamas accused the Israeli military of being responsible for the strike, and both Israel and the United States pointed the finger at a missile from Islamic Jihad, a Hamas ally. Even the number of deaths is debated, from a few hundred to a few dozen.
“In this example of the hospital, we can also deplore the way in which journalists were trapped and had,” says Sébastien Boussois, researcher at the Free University of Brussels, specialist in Islamist terrorism. “Images are double-edged. They offer possibilities for proof and documentation. But these documents must be in the hands of professionals and be evaluated by professionals, while many are thrown out to pasture in public opinion, on networks and in the media. »
The practice of fact-checking, or even simple warnings of caution from the media, satisfies neither of the specialists interviewed. “The source of the images remains difficult to validate,” Ms Tan said. The famous fact checkingis itself susceptible to manipulation. »
Mr. Boussois adds that the mainstream media are not consulted by many people, while social networks spread anything and everything to the masses. “Today, anyone can create their blog and declare that they are an image specialist and influence and mislead people. »
Fraudulent sources even know how to cover their tracks by falsely claiming to be from the media. An X account of an Al-Jazeera journalist claimed to have video showing that a Hamas missile had hit the hospital. The 24-hour news network quickly denied any affiliation with this account.
Wars and the media have long been going hand in hand, for better and for worse. Propaganda and information through photography, cinema and radio accompanied the Second World War. Television brought the Vietnam War into Western homes. 24-hour news networks brought the Gulf War live thirty years ago. Social networks have dominated since the turn of the century, without chasing away the old media, which add and feed on them just as much.
“I am not convinced that there are more images of a conflict now than there were a few years ago,” comments Mr. Boussois. We are in a global trend where social networks sometimes need images more than words. The way CNN covered the Gulf War in 1991 and the subsequent emergence of Al-Jazeera allowed access to different sources of images. The problem is that today, there are a lot of images circulating on social networks and it is easy to hack them. Artificial intelligence even makes it possible to invent them. »
Hate and propaganda
Fanny Tan is particularly interested in X (formerly Twitter), a network used more by the Israeli side. Hamas takes more Telegram. Both platforms appear to have very little moderation.
“The way social networks work encourages the sharing of violent images and disinformation,” she says. There's even a financial incentive to go viral. The X accounts that are posting the most at the moment are Premium accounts that pay to have their content prioritized. »
Mr. Boussois speaks of “war reality TV”, where emotion prevails over deep analysis while serving propaganda. He cites the case of Omar Omsen in Nice, who helped recruit dozens of young people for jihad in Iraq and Syria with his videos from his series 19 HH broadcast on YouTube.
“Images of massacre can be used by those in power and those who orchestrated it for the purposes of psychosis, fear, to worry,” he said. We can make very shocking videos, montages that will touch people. Hamas is trying to take inspiration from Daesh, which was the most brilliant terrorist group in history in terms of communication through its platforms, translations, videos which had a huge impact. »
Ms. Tan also wonders if terror through images is even thought of and organized by Hamas, which would thus copy Daesh. These are perhaps simply personal initiatives of young terrorists who captured the real tortures inflicted on their victims as they constantly filmed themselves in everyday life.