Amidst the ongoing Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, meme websites, notably 9GAG, have created discussion threads about the "Israel-Hamas war." These threads use humor and satire to address the conflict, and they have gained significant attention on social media platforms. Such content sometimes surpasses the boundaries of social media guidelines against inappropriate content.
However, some of this content spreads false information and racist remarks, at times intentionally misrepresenting facts. It aims to convey messages that contribute to justifying violence and fueling hate speech, making it a dangerous form of spreading misinformation by influential public figures.
Israeli Influencers Share Misleading Satirical Content
Since October 7, a number of Israeli comedians and influencers have changed the focus of their content to express political support for Israel. For instance, Matanel Laiany, an Israeli influencer, shifted from producing typical comedic content to satirical material with political messages. He shared a video titled "This is just the beginning" in which he used humor to mock the hardships faced by Palestinians in Gaza, even as Israel was cutting off water and electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip. The video received substantial engagement and created outrage on social media.
An Israeli activist faced intense criticism after sharing a video that ridiculed the plight of Palestinians during ongoing Israeli airstrikes. In the video, she donned a Palestinian keffiyeh and insinuated that Palestinians were feigning their suffering by smearing ketchup on her face and clothing.
Similarly, influencer Noya Cohen posted a satirical video in which she pretended to be a Palestinian woman living under Israeli bombardment. She is displayed as "a Palestinian woman using makeup to make herself appear dirty and including a scene of explosions.” This video aimed to distort reality and downplay the severe circumstances faced by Palestinians due to Israeli airstrikes.
As a result of the proliferation of such satirical content, several social media users were influenced by this type of dark comedy material, and they utilized the satirical hashtag "Pallywood" on social media. The term "Pallywood," formed by combining "Palestine" and "Hollywood," is employed to raise doubts about the authenticity of photos and videos documenting Israeli violence or Palestinian suffering, suggesting that they are staged dramas.
Satire as an Effective Tool of Deception
Misinformation can gain traction when it is presented in a satirical or emotional manner. Comedic personalities often have a special bond with their audience, making their content appealing even if it conveys deceptive information.
Moreover, satirical content can function as an alternative source of political information for a large audience. This type of content offers a distinctive style, especially in the midst of a deluge of news and information that may seem similar in terms of style and presentation. Consequently, the audience seeks out content that is distinct and presented in an accessible, easy-to-understand language.
Satirical content can also act as an alternative to mainstream political discourse for many people. Researchers have noted that around 30% of Americans obtain their political information from satirical programs like "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report."
Satirical Content Increases Susceptibility to Misinformation
Satirical content has the potential to lead the audience to be more receptive to misinformation. Studies indicate that satire can elicit strong emotions in people, and these intense emotions can have a detrimental impact on individuals' ability to process information logically. It can make individuals less adept at thinking rationally and more inclined to employ mental shortcuts (heuristic processing) or intuitive processing instead of engaging in systematic analysis to understand information and news.
This can heighten the likelihood of accepting inaccurate information, particularly if it aligns with individuals' preexisting beliefs and biases, such as their political ideologies and religious values. These mental shortcuts play a role in simplifying complex and detail-rich issues, like the Palestinian situation, in a misleading manner.
On the other hand, when the suffering of a group of people is simplified and presented in a humorous way, it can be easier for individuals to overlook and not take it as seriously as they should. This approach has the potential to diminish human empathy toward the victims and absolve individuals of personal responsibility for the events.
Satirical Content Circumvents Social Media Censorship
There is a significant concern associated with satirical content, which is its effectiveness in circumventing the censorship imposed by social media platforms to combat inappropriate content. Consequently, posts marked as satire can remain on these platforms for extended periods, enhancing their likelihood of disseminating misleading information. Reporting satirical videos that contain misleading information may not always yield effective results in countering them, as social media platforms may refrain from removing this type of content, given that it does not explicitly involve violence.
Paid Influencers to Promote Israeli Propaganda
Since the beginning of the Israeli assaults on Gaza, Israel has faced claims of orchestrating efforts to mobilize influencers and allocate substantial funds for social media campaigns to shape public perceptions in favor of their narrative. Available data reveals that the Israel Foreign Ministry initiated 30 sponsored ads that garnered millions of views on platforms like X, in addition to more than 70 other ads on YouTube. These ads were deliberately tailored for audiences in Western countries. Conversely, some Israeli influencers have come forward with videos stating that they were approached by various parties offering money in exchange for altering their stance on events in Palestine or for promoting pro-Israel political messages on their platforms.
Israeli Sponsored Ads on the X Platform
It is worth noting that during times of conflict, governments and regimes frequently employ comedians and satirical influencers as a strategy to disseminate propaganda for various purposes. These objectives may encompass reshaping public opinion, rationalizing violence, dehumanizing victims, and diminishing empathy toward their suffering.