blue and white and screens?

[estimated reading time 9 minutes]

we pretend the truth will set us free but it won’t. it’s not a gen-z thing. we’ve never cared about truth as humans. we only ever really cared about what we could get away with or what was socially acceptable. and we like to think that, even when we didn’t accept the truth, we knew what the truth was. but that’s not true either.

until the twentieth century, most intelligent people still thought there were gods and spirits, afterlives, fate and a predictable future. artificial intelligence isn’t why we can’t determine fact and fiction. it’s because we’re so easily convinced of things and are incredibly quick to believe things that fit our worldviews and what we want the truth to be.

the difference now isn’t that we’ve become worse at knowing what’s true. it’s that it’s a lot easier to share lies. and once you convince a few people to tell your lies for you, they become an infectious carrier of your propaganda in a way no word-of-mouth grassroots propaganda war has ever been fought before.

but that doesn’t mean the problem is intractable, unsolvable, hopeless. it just means it doesn’t have the same solution as twenty, fifty or a hundred years ago and people have become completely blinded by that.

it’s obvious that no current american presidential candidate has the slightest understanding of how young people interact with short-video social media but that’s not a complete disaster for either of the ancient fighters in that battle because it gives neither an advantage. them being completely out of touch with contemporary reality is actually a huge part of why they’re so appealing to an aging voting public. young people are far less likely to vote in an election where all the candidates are incompetent and hopeless. they know the outcome is going to be a disaster when all the choices are bad to begin with. so both major parties are connecting with a general public reminiscing about vinyl and muscle cars that thinks gender only matters if you’re learning spanish and sex is the five minutes between taking your suit jacket off and asking your wife if that was good for them too. it’s a nation of conservatives ranging from the benign democrats who think progress is using words like unhoused and critical race theory but wonder why everyone has such a problem with natural gas and cheap fashion to the theocratic republicans trying to make america faith again, one oppressed woman at a time burned at the altar of rape culture and ecological disasters.

but where this is far more visible as a mismatch of understanding is the fight between israel and terrorist organizations like hamas, hezbollah, unrwa, the palestinian authority and their iranian backers. because the israeli government at the highest level is run by mostly old men not exactly connected to the reality of the contemporary society they’re not participating in anymore. they believe news organizations shape people’s information and communicate things. they believe truth wins out over lies once you have proof. and they believe people care whether they’re on the right side of issues. but perhaps more importantly than any of that they believe being easily manipulated makes young people a problem they can’t solve. but that’s only because they’re fighting the wrong battles with the wrong strategies.

and it’s not that they’re doing the wrong things. it’s just that they’re talking about them the wrong way, to the wrong people at the wrong times. they think decisions are made by media organizations, that international opinion can be swayed by the united nations and that if you show people the truth they’ll stop spreading lies. and they should know better. but apparently they don’t.

the arab world has a highly-respected international news organization, al jazeera. and for many, many years it has covered international news and done it very well. which means it has a lot of credibility in the west with the general public. that doesn’t mean it’s not biased, just that the bias has been restricted to a particular set of stories. al jazeera has covered disasters and elections and wars all over the world and often done it better than its competitors at cnn, nbc, the new york times and the washington post. this isn’t helped by the fact that most people who watch or read the news on traditional media channels are older. that’s not how people under thirty-five consume news anymore. but when it comes to events involving israel, al jazeera becomes a blithering mess of disinformation and antisemitism. realistically, one of the most genuinely accurate news organizations in the world suddenly simps for terrorist groups and it’s not obvious to most people because they’re so used to a level of professionalism and honesty that’s simply disappeared. when that news is targeted against another country with a huge international news presence, it’s not so hard for balance to be achieved. the united states, russia, china or european countries can effectively combat disinformation from major news outlets because they have their own respected official news media pathways. israel doesn’t. average americans and europeans don’t read the jerusalem post or haaretz or watch i24 so it doesn’t matter what they publish or broadcast. not to mention a distinct lack of modern professional visuals compared to most major western media outlets.

but it’s not traditional news where the propaganda war is being lost. and people love to criticize young people in the west for not being able to tell what’s true or false but i don’t think that’s as much our fault as it may immediately appear. we have been told all our lives that journalism is about telling the truth and independent journalism is about integrity. in other words, journalists might make mistakes or be misinformed but they’re trying to tell us what’s really going on. in vietnam, afghanistan and iraq, journalists shed light on the disasters of war and failures of governments. they were courageous and probably the closest things to heroes the west has seen in centuries. independent journalists today, though some still strive for honest reporting, aren’t fitting that expectation. they’ve become mouthpieces for their personal feelings and what they’re sharing are stories intended to shock, move and enrage audiences rather than help them to understand something real. journalists participate in terrorist actions and share disinformation because it tells the story they want believed. journalists aren’t reporting the news anymore in many of these situations. they’re participating in it and manufacturing it.

what people believe now, though, is personal experience shared through short video. it’s how most young people relate to the world. they look into others’ lives and experience culture, society and places nearby and on the other side of the world far more directly than ever before. this isn’t mitigated by news outlets and conglomerates. people are relying on in-person amateur reporting and the filtration of influencers to understand the state of the world. and it’s not that this is less functional than traditional news media. it’s that it’s poorly understood by those who simply don’t live life that way, which certainly includes most people in government. while much of modern social media was developed by jews and israelis, the israeli government is so far out of touch with that side of western society they have simply dismissed it and it’s probably the most significant front in its war on terrorism. the united nations has hated israel from the day of its first general assembly meeting for many reasons but that has never been less significant than today when the united nations is so irrelevant to people in their twenties and thirties we simply don’t care what’s said or done there.

which prompts the question of why antisemitic and pro-palestinian content is so popular on social media despite at least some quality pro-israel content existing. the most obvious reason, which is certainly true, though not the main problem, is that pro-israel content is reasonable, logical and sensible while pro-palestinian content is exciting and angry. it stimulates emotions while israeli content attempts to calm the storm and dissipate the anger. people like to have these emotional extremes and the protests and anger and slogans appeal to them. we should have learned that from the rise of hitler and trump but it appears we didn’t notice. it doesn’t help that words like “zionism”, which the vast majority of people in the west probably hadn’t heard in their lives until a year ago, have been rebranded to sound like “nazi” or “fascist” and people are so afraid of “colonialism” because they know it was the source of genocide in the americas and asia but they have no idea what it actually means. so these words get thrown around as buzzwords and jargon to an audience that’s reacting more like pavlov’s pooches than the doubting and questioning people young adults are usually stereotyped as being.

and that’s certainly a problem. the content isn’t exciting, angry, feeling-tingling enough. but that’s not where the real issue lies. the much more fundamental problem is who’s creating and sharing the content. social media is a land of credibility by popularity. it’s a far more instantly-gratifying form of democratic interaction than any modern government, especially one like the united states where representation is mitigated by a complex electoral college. but what happens on social media is that popularity breeds more popularity while it propagates a sense of credibility and familiarity. you might follow someone and watch their videos and feel like you know them personally but their other two million followers may feel the same. that’s a connection at a personal level most people have never felt for television or film celebrities unless they’re obsessive stalkers or paparazzi. but social media personalities, influencers, bring us into their homes and lives. they don’t just tell us what’s happening. they share their feelings and experiences. they let us see their daily thoughts and often even their failures and mistakes. it makes them seem so much more real to us. and we believe what they say.

and that doesn’t mean that faith is misplaced. i believe most social media influencers, even the ones sharing disinformation on a massive scale, probably believe what they’re putting out. their content is authentic and that’s what makes it powerful. the problem is they’re putting out content about things they don’t know anything about and sharing things they don’t know are blatant and disastrous lies. it’s not surprising to me and shouldn’t be to anyone an influencer in california or new york doesn’t have any real understanding of what’s going on in the middle east. if they’ve never traveled in that part of the world, why would they? so when they see videos of violence and people suffering, they want to do something to help. and they have platforms with millions of eyes and ears they can use to try to make things better.

but that only explains why the problem is happening. someone creates a propaganda video where they tell lies and serious influencers watch and believe them. then they share them to their audiences and their audiences trust them to know what they’re sharing and things spiral out of control before anyone knows the difference.

the problem is there’s almost no content out there combatting it. explanations don’t get eyeballs because they’re not interesting to most viewers. they need to see and experience the reality. and that’s not being created and posted. it doesn’t help that there are less than ten million israelis and more like a half-billion arabs. not that most arabs are producing disinformation, of course. but with such a talent pool to choose from it’s not surprising there are lots of willing participants. if only 1% of arabs share content, that’s the same number as half the entire population of israel doing the same. and quantity really does matter in a world where number of subscribers and number of views determines what gets seen.

that is where some people have stopped, though, in their understanding. a tiny minority group can’t fight a massive army. but that’s not the end of the story. the vast majority of arabs and muslims out there aren’t trying to spread disinformation. it’s only a tiny fraction actually producing it. it just happens that there’s a huge ready-made willing audience to consume it. so how do we combat the lies?

well, i can tell you how we can’t combat it. politicians creating content. nobody believes politicians. and while people like eylon levy are extremely popular with a young jewish audience all over the world and are producing absolutely excellent responses to the pro-palestinian propaganda machine, they’re not getting the eyes of the non-jewish western public in any significant way. i think that’s relatively sad because the content is great and well-made. but the audience is the wrong audience. the jewish influencer world is a self-sustaining silo where it’s difficult, even with lots of shares, to get seen outside that area. much like pro-trump content is showed to trump supporters, pro-israel content is showed to israel supporters. and that’s great for morale and positive self-image but it’s not great for changing world opinions or fighting propaganda.

there is a better way, though. and it only works when you’re not trying to deceive, which is useful when you’re on the side telling the truth. it’s a solution that couldn’t possibly work for the pro-palestinians because it would completely backfire. simply put, what israel needs is non-jews on the ground, people who have no vested interest in supporting israel. mid-level popular social media influencers with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers control the narrative and they’ve been generally misled by terrorist propaganda. solving this is as easy as providing a way for those influencers – not just a select four or five but dozens from across areas of interest – to come and spend time in israel. not a whirlwind tour organized by the government for a week but an invitation to come and create content with no restrictions on movement or what can be said for months at a time. progressives and leftist content creators from fashion, social justice, health, etc, who are sharing content they think is true need to be given a chance to legitimately experience life in israel. meet survivors of hamas attacks, live through the constant threat of rockets and see the iron dome in action over and over, meet israeli jews and arabs and indians living their for years and discover what the truth really is. people would take israel up on that offer to go and share their real experiences of what’s happening. not to live in a press camp and be taken to prepared events by government representatives but to go out and explore. facilitate connections with people but really just allow them to live, perhaps hosted by israeli families, so they could get a true sense of what the war is truly about.

this solution should be obvious and why it hasn’t been implemented confuses me beyond believe other than the fact that people in the government are so detached from how younger adults interact with the world around us they are blind to why their message is being drowned out.

but we need to call on the israeli government to start inviting the content creators who could make a huge difference to come and spend months in the country, no string attached, and create whatever content they like. it would change absolutely everything and perhaps save us all from the nightmare of extremist terrorism gaining more and more momentum and strength. so, prime minister netanyahu and members of the knesset, what exactly are you waiting for? you have nothing to hide and everything to gain from more on-the-ground reporting of life in the only free country in the middle east. perhaps you should get on that.

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thank you for reading. your eyes have done me a great honor today.