The “TikTok intifada”
Israel unquestionably has the military advantage in its ongoing conflict with Hamas. But in the fight to control the public narrative of the conflict, Israel’s edge seems to be slipping.
In previous rounds of conflict, the Israeli government was often able to capitalize on its widely followed official social media channels, as well as statements by leaders, to help shape the narrative in its favor, portraying itself as a nation unjustly under attack with the sole goal of defending itself.
But this time around, Palestinians speaking out against the Israeli occupation and its overwhelming military bombardment of Gaza have had far more success in telling their side of the story on social media — eroding Israel’s edge in the battle of perspectives and gaining a rapt audience in the US.
From making solidarity videos on TikTok to using Twitter to organize international protests to posting videos to Instagram showing Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, Palestinians and those around the world sympathetic to their plight have made social media a central weapon in the narrative fight against Israel. Those weapons are deployed on many fronts: using different platforms to target multiple audiences — in the region and around the world — while also using apps to coordinate actions among themselves.
The majority use it to counter the Israeli government’s claims and promote a pro-Palestinian narrative, though some take to social media to praise the actions of Hamas.
“It’s like a TikTok intifada,” said Michael Bröning, executive director of the German think tank Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s office in New York, using the Arabic term used to describe previous Palestinian uprisings.
Social media played a central role in past Israel-Gaza wars, where clips on YouTube and messages on Facebook and Twitter aimed to report events in real time. But the emergence of new platforms like Telegram and TikTok have allowed more — and younger — people to engage with this flare-up online. And now that social media platforms are a key delivery system for news consumption, many on the apps can experience the complexities of the region in real time, muddying the usual easy storylines.
“There is a penetration of the mainstream narrative,” said Marwa Fatafta, a Berlin-based policy analyst at Al-Shabaka, a Palestinian-focused think tank headquartered in New York City. “People are able to see with their own eyes, without being censored, what’s going on minute by minute.”