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Flares are launched by the Israeli army over the Gaza Strip, where it is conducting a ground operation against Hamas.

  • Mélanie Meloche-Holubowski (View profile)Mélanie Meloche-Holubowski

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Since the deadly Hamas attack in Israel on October 7, people have been hungry for information, even if it has not yet been verified. The public and journalists face a whirlwind of propaganda, disinformation and misinformation, a situation that is exacerbating tensions.

In times of war, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. The speed with which information is transmitted on social media creates unrealistic expectations among the public. With the chaos caused by war, it is not possible to have sufficient clarity in real time, says Emerson T. Brooking, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Sharing these images – fake or real – aims to increase support for one side or the other. When there is a war, there is a collision between all these forces [disinformation, misinformation and propaganda], adds Brooking.

< strong>Misinformation : dissemination of false information without prior bad intentions. This dissemination of false information is not deliberate; the information is simply false or incorrect to begin with.

Misinformation :deliberate dissemination of false information with the aim of manipulating, influencing, deceiving or causing harm.

Propaganda : systematic dissemination of information, in a biased or misleading manner, in order to promote a political cause or point of view. Some political campaign speeches may be considered propaganda.

Additionally, the fog of war, a phrase coined by Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz to describe the absence or blurring of information for participants in military operations, sets in.

Middle East, the eternal conflict

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Middle East, the eternal conflict

Consult the complete file


However, there is also information jamming, a common phenomenon during wars, explains Maud Quessard, director of the Europe-Transatlantic Space-Russia domain at the Institute of strategic research at the Military School in Paris. There is a jamming of the waves, a jamming of images, a jamming of minds.

Outside the battlefield, all parties are engage in information warfare.

The weapon of propaganda is a tool that all democracies can use, provided that the conflict is open, which could, moreover, x27;in a certain way, legitimize this use in the eyes of the general public. Propaganda is not the prerogative of authoritarian regimes, she recalls.

During a war, there is a change of rules and a change of culture, adds Fabrice D'Almeida, professor at Panthéon-Assas University in Paris and at the French Press Institute. In fact, war allows a radicalization of ideas. Then, the circulation of information is not the same in times of war, since there is censorship and there are spaces that are prohibited, on which journalists cannot work.

According to these three experts, both Hamas and the Israeli government are engaged in an information war; everyone tries to influence public opinion in their own way.

Ms. Quessard notes that groups like Hamas (which some states consider a terrorist organization ), Al-Qaeda (terrorist organization), Islamic State (armed terrorist group) and the Wagner group (paramilitary) do not engage in information warfare in the traditional way.

The use of extreme and violent images aims to bring out their message from the informational confusion and to play on the register of emotion.

There is this one-upmanship that we observe between terrorist groups, paramilitary groups and private military companies, who copy each other to go further. Not in persuasion, which could be the aim of classic war propaganda in an open conflict, but in the degree of horror.

A quote from Maud Quessard, Strategic Research Institute of the Military School in Paris

Democratic states are hesitant to enter into this escalation, specifies Ms. Quessard. The first gesture of the Western politician is to denounce the horror and not to outbid the horror […], to condemn it and respond to it with the appropriate means .

According to Mr. D'Almeida, the attack of October 7 is a form of propaganda by the fact. Hamas wanted to show the fragility of Israel. The attack was to show that we can beat Israel on its territory, says Fabrice D'Almeida.

Furthermore, Israel's information blockade by preventing the entry of journalists and periodically cutting access to the Internet contributes to the information fog, deplores Mr. Brooking.

M. D'Almeida adds that in return, Hamas continues to facilitate the movement of journalists, particularly those from Arab channels, by allowing them to have maximum access to the field. It’s a way to raise international awareness.

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Mohammed Salem, a Reuters journalist in Gaza

Since access to the Gaza Strip is restricted, journalistic work is necessarily more complicated, says Emerson T. Brooking. I think the media can still find the truth, except it's very difficult right now with the fog of war.

In this context, journalists are forced to use information provided by the Israeli government, Hamas, the American government, the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

This is why many media outlets attribute every detail to the source while warning the public that this information cannot be independently verified on the spot.

It is common journalistic practice in conflicts to report figures and information from government officials and international agencies. Sometimes the words may differ. When this is the case, we clearly know where the information comes from, specifies for example the Washington Post in several of the articles on its website.

This type of warning is not new, specifies Ms. Quessard. Since Donald Trump's arrival on the political scene, journalists have been looking for various ways to counter the spread of false information. There was a turning point. […] [The journalists] asked themselves the question: should we put on blindfolds to explain that this information may be questionable?

Mr. Brooking believes that in the age of social media, journalists must rely more on information from citizens. Unfortunately, social media has become the publisher of traditional media. This is reality and there is no getting around it.

On the other hand, this information can be just as problematic as that which comes from the authorities, he warns.

Many people spread information not to inform, but to divide points of view. You have to be aware of this.

A quote from Emerson T. Brooking, researcher at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab

When access to independent media is reduced, everyone becomes more vulnerable to propaganda and disinformation, says Brooking. #x27;exclusivity sometimes leads to confusion in the media.

A notable example occurred when some American media outlets circulated an unconfirmed report that Hamas militants had beheaded children.

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It was not until several days after the fact that the United States and Canada declared that they had concluded with a “high degree of confidence” that Israel did not fire on Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City on October 17.

Another example is the case of Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza. On October 17, several media outlets, including Radio-Canada, reported a statement from the Hamas Ministry of Health that hundreds of people had been killed in a strike on this hospital. Hamas accused Israel of being responsible, while Israel claimed that a failed Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket attack had caused the damage.

The media tried to explain the confusion, but this muddle still polarized the debate and reinforced opinions on both sides.

Early versions of the media coverage […] relied too heavily on Hamas' claims and did not make clear that these claims could not be immediately verified, judged the New York Times.

While it can be frustrating for the public not to have quickly As it happens, this type of chaos is common in times of war, these experts argue.

Recall that Russia questioned the explosion in a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, by asserting that pregnant women were personified by influencers.

Although journalists suspected that atrocities had been committed by Russian troops in Bucha and Mariupol, it was not until several days later that they were able to observe and confirm the events. Meanwhile, Russia denied that its soldiers had killed civilians, even claiming that Ukraine had fabricated images of corpses.

It This is why, given all this information fog, certain conclusions cannot be established by the media in real time, says Ms. Quessard.

Afterwards, there are reflections which are more legal on how we will assess a war crime, for example. What boundaries can we set? Can images constitute real evidence? And that means we're not going to decide right away. We will have to do careful investigative work, and that is the work of lawyers.

That does not prevent the media to make certain observations, she adds.

Even if the investigators and lawyers have not released their conclusions, we can say that x27;there were massacres that were committed, hospitals that were targeted, therefore civilian targets.

A quote from Maud Quessard, Strategic Research Institute of the Military School in Paris

According to Brooking, it is too early to establish who has the information advantage in this conflict. Depending on the different platforms and audiences, there are winners and losers, he adds.

We cannot treat [disinformation and propaganda] in a truly balanced way since there are times when it is one who does it and there are times when it is one who does it. is the other. I would rather say that everyone in turn creates disinformation. And it is not of the same magnitude and they are not the same strategies.

A quote from Fabrice D'Almeida, professor at the Panthéon-Assas University and at the Institute français de presse

On the other hand, these experts fear that the public is at risk of being the loser in this informational war.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">If traditional media try to contextualize events, this is not the case on social networks, specifies Ms. Quessard. This can explain the citizen's confusion.

In certain cases, information fog can push political decision-makers to make mistakes or make certain decisions, says Mr. Brooking.

Even if you had access to all the information from intelligence services around the world, a part of them is still going to make decisions based on what they saw on Facebook or on X.

Mr. Brooking, which is soon to publish an analysis of social media use at the start of the Ukraine war, believes the situation is much worse right now, in part because of Elon Musk's changes to the X platform.

The speed and scale with which information – true or false – spreads is only accelerating, Mr. Brooking laments.

Unfortunately, says Ms. Quessard, it is difficult for journalists to set the record straight afterward. Once the image is anchored, it's a little too late. The information is already in circulation, it has been read, it has been imprinted in the brains of those who received it, explains Ms. Quessard. It can have a very rapid impact that is then difficult to erase, erase, moderate.

Mr. Brooking agrees. People's opinions are formed very quickly and become difficult to change, even when events are confirmed by many sources.

It's simply human nature, Brooking said. Items that have strong emotional resonance or the things a person last saw often shape their decision-making.

Many people hear or “They see something, they make initial judgments, then they log off,” he explains. People's attention span is limited.

Revealing the truth weeks or months later is good for archives and history books, but it doesn't necessarily change the minds of the majority of people.

A quote from Emerson T . Brooking, researcher at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab

In this context, Ms. Quessard believes that the public must take a critical look on what he sees and reads on social networks. I think that every citizen raised in a pluralist regime, that is to say in democracies where different types of opinions and information circulate, can demonstrate this critical perspective, she says, adding that every citizen must listen to the words of the many experts, historians and non-politicized specialists who can provide keys to understanding.

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