How Social Media Poisons the Discourse About Israel (And So Much More)

The social media platform has no political agenda, and is incentivized to get you lost in its vortex of both right- and left-wing content, or even true and false content. It is merely designed to keep you engaged as long as possible.
October 23, 2023
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Many of us wonder how anyone can possibly not think what we think in life. How can this person really believe vaccines have microchips or cause autism, how can that friend think climate change isn’t real, how can a professional basketball player possibly think the world is flat, and how can so many out there demonize Israel on a daily basis? How do they come to such different conclusions? Don’t they see what I’m seeing? That’s just the thing: they don’t.

For those of you who missed the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” let me give you the nickel version. If you and your friend each started a social media profile at the same time, and each of you added the exact same friends, as soon as you each start to browse and scroll through your feeds, your social media learns what you click on, notices what you like, and even calculates how many seconds you pause before continuing the scroll of your finger or your mouse. Immediately your two profiles begin to diverge, like a parallel “Sliding Doors” reality creating its own new threads. Within days or even hours, you will no longer have the same content. It will be almost unrecognizable that you have the exact same friends connected, because your content will completely differ. You paused to read about how vaccines kill, and went down the rabbit hole clicking on similar links, you will now mostly be given anti-vax content. You clicked on how Israel is an “apartheid” state imprisoning the Palestinians, full of other triggering words like “occupation” and “war crimes,” so you will now be given more anti-Israel content.

The social media platform has no political agenda, and is incentivized to get you lost in its vortex of both right and left-wing content, or even true and false content. It is merely designed to keep you engaged as long as possible. And nothing keeps people engaged more than sensationalist images and stories. What used to be clickbait articles are now more often lazily-shared memes of graphs and photos. Anyone from a third-grader to a luddite grandparent could easily create something as simple as a meme or a video testimonial. After that, it’s easy to share the content, however made-up, and let the algorithm and the impatient gullibility of mankind engage with that post and help it go viral.

Confirmation bias is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as, “the fact that people are more likely to accept or notice information if it appears to support what they already believe or expect.” People are almost all susceptible to this, myself included. You read what you think or know to be correct about something, and thus you are reluctant to believe or even dismiss evidence to the contrary. You read articles more carefully if they agree with your belief system. It is a combination of your conscious and subconscious mind ensuring that most data conform to any strongly held beliefs. Social media algorithms remove the remaining choice we had left, to see those contrary opinions and facts. We never get the chance to even choose to read the information, because it feeds us what its calculation believes we want to read, to keep us engaged at all times. That’s the endless feedback loop, reinforcing your confirmation bias.

One recent case of confirmation bias was the bombing of a hospital in Gaza allegedly killing 500 civilians. Why would the world immediately report that this was an Israeli air strike? Because the Gazan media machine reported it as such. Is there free press in Gaza? Nope, it’s controlled under the iron thumb of Hamas. Why would the Western media not therefore take those reports with a grain of salt, knowing it is extremely motivated propaganda? Because the definition of insanity is famously said to be “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Somehow, the world’s press has time and time again reported lies about Israel that they have then needed to quietly print corrections about later, and time and time again they continue to not vet their sources. It would be like calling an election for a certain candidate based solely on that candidate’s campaign manager telling you that they won. This world is full of insanity, as it has recently continued to prove.

People who are aware that the context of these Gazan or Qatar sources are Hamas, and know that Israel, with its freedom of speech and free press, is the first to admit when it makes a grave error in combat, and punishes members of the population or army if they commit crimes, did not rush to judgement. On the other hand, people who were anti-Israel were already more likely reading sources that jumped on the Gazan allegation with the incorrect information, and it reinforced their confirmation bias that it was an Israeli war crime. This includes the BBC which until 10/22/23 stubbornly refuses to refer to Hamas as a terrorist group, even though the UK officially does, and incorrectly jumped the gun and “speculated” this was an Israeli attack. The BBC, under massive pressure, finally agreed to stop calling Hamas a “militant group” and stated they will change the vernacular to “proscribed terror organization.”

It doesn’t help when news organizations hire people who are supposed to be impartial journalists, and it turns out they are anything but. The New York Times recently rehired Soliman Hijjy, a journalist who has a history of publicly praising Hitler multiple times, and pay him to report on Gaza as recently as his false claim that Israel bombed the hospital. The BBC have not one but six reporters under internal investigation after they were found to have praised Hamas for the civilian attacks.

Let’s step back a moment for a quick summation of Hamas history. It was founded in 1987, and has always tried to prevent any potential peace process with Israel. Throughout the country’s history, the Jewish state has overwhelmingly desired peace with its hostile neighbors. Polling is frequently done in Israel, and each time most Israelis desire peace even at the cost of losing land in a two-state solution. What has changed over the years is the growing, earned cynicism that Israel cannot shake its own hand – there simply has been no partner to make that peace with. During the Clinton Oslo Accords, the Israeli government shook hands with the father of airplane hijacking, terrorist Yasser Arafat, and were starting the process of giving up “land for peace.” Already at that point in time, Hamas objected to any treaty being made with even the most peace-loving form of Israeli government, and their sole objective was the total annihilation of the Jewish people. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a chant that many like to naively pretend is about freedom for the Palestinians, when in fact it is a chant referring to a completely Jewish-free country. Their call and charter is to wipe Jews off the map in all of Israel, and upon success to continue with Jews and Christians in the rest of the world. This is not speculation. It is why it is designated a terrorist organization by America, Canada, the UK, the EU, Japan and other countries. These are not freedom fighters looking for a good deal, they are genocidal maniacs.

In 2005 under immense world pressure, Israel withdrew from Gaza, leaving it to run itself. It was given huge sums of money from various parts of the world including Israel in an attempt to help it thrive. In 2006 there were so-called elections in Gaza, and Hamas by hook or (more aptly) by crook won their election, and became the autocratic governing body in Gaza in 2007. Imagine if instead of a Democrat or a Republican taking the highest office it was Isis. At the time I remember saying out loud, “at least now the world will no longer have any confusion or ambiguity when it comes to knowing who the enemy is, because Hamas is a proud and official terror organization, so nobody could possibly give them credibility.” How stupidly naïve I turned out to be, because the world finds a way to forget, confirmation bias slips nicely to fit each person’s narrative, and history is damned to repeat itself yet again. In Nazi Germany, many locals ratted out their Jewish neighbors, or turned a blind eye and said nothing as they were rounded up to be erased from their existence, and now countless people in America and Europe tell themselves this is a “conflict” that’s too complicated to follow, so they say nothing as Hamas commits barbaric acts of rape, murder, torture, and infanticide. In the cases of many on college campuses and beyond, they even go the next step, and wave pro-Hamas and pro-Palestinian signage with fervor, ironically blending the two causes that if you better understood matters conflict with one another.

In the 10/30/23 issue of People magazine, they profiled a Palestinian who loved Gaza, the late father of Yasmine Mohammed. Because she lives in Canada, she feels safe enough to say things he could not living under Hamas:

            All my dad ever talked about was rewinding the clock. He wanted to take Gaza back to how it was before the Hamas terrorists overtook the land. My dad always wished that the people of Gaza could fight back against Hamas. It was frustrating for him. It was, and still is, dangerous. Anything bad you’d say, they’d come after you. To see people calling Hamas freedom fighters – after everything they’ve done – is an insult to Palestinian people. My dad always prayed for peace for Gaza. He believed in a two-state solution.

This Shabbat, my beloved peace-seeking Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky (Bnai David Judea) told us that he met up with a dear Palestinian friend of his, and they had lunch and cried over the tragic events in Israel. This man has children in the Israeli army, risking their lives in the fight against Hamas. To be rooting on Hamas is not only a desecration of humanity, it is an insult to the countless Palestinian victims of the terror group itself. This is why many Jews have taken the common “Free Palestine” signage that is used to vilify Israel, and have attempted to turn it into the more intellectually honest “Free Palestine From Hamas.”

Ever since Hamas took over the Palestinian people in Gaza, any chance of success was erased for that citizenry. The money given to help them thrive was mostly stolen by Hamas to create weaponry. Remember when Israel was recently pressured to turn the water back on in Gaza, as they were attempting nonviolent tactics to free the hostages? Go ahead and guess what percent of the water supply Israel still has control over. I’ll give you a minute…10%. That’s it. What happened to the other 90%? The water pipes created to give clean water were mostly dismantled by Hamas, to create more bombs. There is no free press, and any time you hear the words Gazan Minister of ______, it is the talking piece of Hamas. They also hold influence and even control over Al Jazeera, which comes out of Qatar, so when you see any of those as your sources, you are actually reading Hamas propaganda that has served its purpose and gotten to your smartphone or newspaper. Even if evidence shows otherwise, as with the hospital that was proven to be a rocket by the Palestine Islamic Jihad (another USA designated terrorist organization with the mission statement to eradicate Israel), the damage is done, and countless people’s algorithm have already reinforced their confirmation bias that Israel is the bad guy. It’s like a cop who arrests the drug dealer the one time he wasn’t actually guilty. In that cop’s mind, maybe he was innocent that time, but he certainly is guilty most of the time. That one instance changes nothing in the cop’s future view of the drug dealer. Likewise, nobody who thinks the worst of Israel saw the story corrected, and changed their worldview of the flawed but free-speech-filled democracy in the Middle East. Maybe they didn’t blow up this hospital this time, but the next time one is reported they will jump to the same conclusions without hesitation, and often with zeal.

Another way the damage is done is that countless others refuse to believe the American and UK official reports that this was in fact not Israel. So in their minds and their newsfeeds, they continue to reinforce the same false narrative that Hamas gifted them. In a truly reprehensible piece of history repeating itself, a modern version of Holocaust Denial is happening in real time, as there are people — including consistent Israel-basher Susan Sarandon — who share propaganda that the acts of terror against Israel have largely been Israeli lies. Apparently Sarandon thinks that all women in the #MeToo movement should be believed, except when they are Israeli rape victims, because those are likely often lying to gain sympathy. This is ironic, considering how proud Hamas has been to video and publicize their acts of terror; so to have people both defending as well as denying those very actions is not only reprehensible, but completely insane.

Official statements released after the October 7 horrifying terror attacks by Hamas on Israeli citizens can be quite telling. South Africa victim-blamed Israel entirely, and countries including Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE basically said a whole lot of nothing, with some expressing regret over civilian deaths, and some saying the only solution is a two-state peace. How is that continued suggestion helpful? Who are the individuals and governments around the world suggesting Israel make peace with? Hamas, whose very charter says, “Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea?” They are the governing body clenching an iron fist around the Palestinian throats. How is screaming at Israel to make concessions or peace with an entity whose only goal is Israel’s total annihilation supposed to be constructive? Yossi Klein Halevi, a supporter of a two-state solution and highly involved in efforts of dialogue and coexistence with Palestinians wrote in a recent essay (Jewish Journal, 10/20-26/23):

            Whatever one’s politics, we know that it wasn’t Israel’s policies that provoked the massacre but its existence. The massacre was not an expression of desperation but of genocidal intent. The tactics exposed the goal. The point-blank mass murder of civilians wasn’t a political problem requiring a political solution, but an existential threat requiring a military response.

Perhaps it’s my own personalized algorithm, but I haven’t seen any posts about Biden’s speech on October 19, so let me say this: THANK YOU MR. PRESIDENT. You have many within your own party who are not fans of Israel, and you risk further alienating them from your administration, but you did so anyway, so THANK YOU. There are neighboring countries unfriendly to Israel which you are knowingly pissing off by publicly hugging and standing by Israel, and for this I THANK YOU. You want to give humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, but only if it actually gets to them, and is not stolen by Hamas as usual, and for this I THANK YOU. As much as I am frustrated and crying over the portion of humanity which either attacks Israel with its words or looks away when it is attacked, I want to give credit and praise when our friends have our back.

Last week at my poker game, a dear non-Jewish friend entered the room and got everyone’s attention, and sincerely told us how deeply sorry he is for the horrors happening to our friends and families in Israel. That same week at work an older nursing instructor gave me a bear hug, and told me that she never really understood the dynamics in Israel, but that I inspired her to take the time to really read up on it, along with my posts, and she couldn’t be more sorry for the injustices happening there to the Jewish people. And my President, who many Republicans and moderate Democrats worried would not be a good and loyal supporter of Israel, visited the country in wartime, hugged Israeli leaders in front of cameras, and stood by them giving the full support of the USA to defend themselves and eradicate Hamas. I hope many of those same skeptical voters will appreciate what he’s doing, though if they don’t it’s likely due to what each and every one of us have: a narrative set in stone, and newsfeed algorithms helping confirm our own unchanging bias.

Boaz Hepner works as a Registered Nurse in Saint John’s Health Center, and provides health education to the community at large. He grew up in LA in Pico/Robertson and lives here with his wife Adi, daughter Natalia, and son Liam. He helped clean up the neighborhood by adding the dozens of trash cans that can still be seen from Roxbury to La Cienega. He can be found with his family enjoying his passions: his multitude of friends, movies, poker and traveling.

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