Israel-Hamas War Disinformation Spread Online and Thousands of Teen Boys Being Sextorted
Elon Musk and X Major Sources of Disinformation about Israel-Hamas War, Thousands of Teen Boys Sextorted, My New Feature: Kareem's Media Gripes, Allison Miller plays jazz
What I’m Discussing Today:
Kareem’s Daily Quote: A quote to save democracy—if we really want to.
The Spread of Disinformation Online about the Israel-Hamas War: If the public is fed lies and disinformation, how can we make reasoned decisions?
Elon Musk and X are key spreaders of misinformation. No surprise there.
Thousands of Teen Boys Are Being Sextorted. Easy to place blame on the young victims—except that twelve boys have committed suicide.
Even a 69-year-old millionaire exec gets caught up in sextortion. Some things never change.
Kareem’s Video Break: Need a good laugh? You’ll want to replay this a few times.
Kareem’s Media Gripes. New segment in which I muse about the racial content of AMC’s ad, the message in the Otezla plaque psoriasis ad, and The Daily Beast’s sexist and nasty obituary for the actor who played Lois Lane.
Jazz drummer Allison Miller plays “Rivers in Our Veins”: A remarkable video that pays homage to America’s rivers through jazz, tap dancing, and video projections. Plus, a bonus song from her album, “Hudson,” that will send you adrift on the river.
Kareem’s Daily Quote
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few.
American abolitionist Wendell Phillips, 1852
Wendell Phillips was not the first to express this sentiment about eternal vigilance. It was probably Major General James Jackson in 1809. But I like his addition of power ever stealing from the many to the few because he reminds us that it’s not just the borders we have to watch as much as those on the inside that are poisoning democracy, drop by lethal drop. Sadly, 171 years later, not much has changed. A quick glance at the headlines tells us that.
I have used the first part of this quote numerous times in my writing because we have to eternally remind people that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. The first step in stealing liberty is to rile people up into a state of fear or righteous indignation so their outrage strangles their capacity to reason. Tell people an election was stolen, and some will believe, deny elections work, and send money. Tell them foreigners are flooding across the borders with fentanyl to poison our children with drugs and poison White blood with sex, and they will believe, build a wall, and send money. Tell them books are turning their kids gay and they will believe, ban books, and send money. This recalls last week’s Daily Quote: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
And that’s how power is ever stealing from the many to the few. But the price of that is the slow erosion of democracy, which is the guardian of liberty.
One of the things that has always baffled me is the power of political ads. It defies reason that any political ad should convince anyone of anything. We know going in that they often are misleading, distort facts, lie outright, and make only the vaguest of promises (“I’ll fight for the middle class!”). Worse are the campaign signs that just say a candidate’s name and the office they’re running for. Sometimes you’ll see dozens of the same sign lining a street or dozens of different candidates clumped together. How does just a name convince anyone to vote for someone? The theory is that if you see the same name often enough you’ll automatically assume the person is popular and blindly vote for them.
There must be something to that theory because, in the 2020 election, over $14.4 billion was spent, mostly on ads saying nothing. To me, that is a symptom of not being eternally vigilant in defense of democracy. In essence, votes are being purchased because the voter is too lazy or too biased to find facts on candidates. We should demand more from our candidates than a campaign of name recognition. We should demand more from our voters than lame brainwashing, or even a pre-wash rinse. Do the work—that’s how you defend democracy. It’s easier to build a wall, feel patriotic about yourself, and flop into the La-Z-Boy with the remote.
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Yet, the cost is too high for some people.
SUMMARY: Earlier this week, Marc Zell, a representative for Republicans Overseas Israel, a U.S.-based political organization, shared a video on X that claimed to show a Hamas militant with a kidnapped Jewish girl taken to Gaza. “Hamas terrorist with kidnapped Jewish baby girl in Gaza. The caption in Arabic reads ‘ A lost girl’,” Zell posted.
The clip has been viewed 1.1 million times and received almost 2,000 shares. But soon after it was posted to X, users pointed out that the video originated on TikTok and dates back to September. The original poster in turn deleted the video but it continues to circulate across social media. A Community Note—a crowd-sourced, fact-checking feature on the platform—has since appeared under Zell’s post that states “there is no indication” that the video, which was published before Hamas’ attack, shows a “‘Jewish girl’, that the child was kidnapped, that [the] video was shot in Gaza.”
The video is one of many examples of unverified, false, or misleading information swirling around on social media since Hamas launched a surprise, unprecedented attack against Israel on Oct. 7 that has left at least 1,300 people dead in the country. In Gaza, more than 1,400 Gazans have died from retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.
Much of the graphic imagery and footage surfacing on social media depicts real and credible evidence of violence committed during the Israel-Hamas war. But experts say social media platforms have also been flooded with swaths of misinformation and disinformation, adding to the confusion about what is happening on the ground. It includes inaccurate claims and fabricated assertions, and the resurfacing of old and unrelated war footage or video game footage.
MY TAKE: “The first casualty of war is the truth,” said Sen. Hiram Warren Johnson, though some variation of that idea dates back to Aeschylus. Apparently, knowing that to be true doesn’t prevent it from happening over and over again. Or for it to be an effective strategy in manipulating public sentiment. The consequences of these manipulations can be even greater now because of the instantaneous delivery of misinformation and disinformation to billions of people.
Inaccurate information can be used to whip up public outrage to support actions that might not be justified or might be hastily thrown together. Remember our two wars against Iraq that had no actual cause? (No, investigations proved they weren’t responsible for 9/11, which was used to inflame our need for retribution: “9/11 and Iraq: The making of a tragedy”)
Remember the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) that was our reason for invading Iraq? Maybe not if you watched Fox News because 52% of their viewers believed that WMD were definitely or probably found—even though none were. Before we feel too smug, overall, 42% of the country believed the same thing. Based on nothing. Yet, 4,431 American soldiers died there, along with about 300,000 Iraqi civilians. Those are real consequences based on disinformation and hasty decisions encouraged by public outrage.
How can so many people be convinced of something that isn’t true despite having the fastest, most sophisticated communications systems ever? Perhaps because we have the fastest, most sophisticated communications systems ever. Few people take a breath and wait for more reliable information. They are quick to react. That incentivizes those who can to distribute false information.
Clearly, one of the main driving forces in this campaign of disinformation is Elon Musk and X, as we can see in this article: