This week's TypeRight looks into internet blackouts, disinformation campaigns, and how they legitimise war and massacres, in relation to the recent incidents in the middle east.
Two years ago, as Ukraine witnessed an invasion by a larger and more organised Russia at the border, we witnessed the world pour in support in different ways. We also witnessed, as with most major polarising events, from elections to pandemics, an array of propaganda and disinformation, carefully coordinated and sharply targetted. From livestreams of the war that were actually video-game footages to sanctions on education, information that hurt the citizens more than those waging war, and laws on fake news that borders on censorship, we had talked about it back then:
Now, last week, on October 7, as the area witnessed the "Al Aqsa Flood," a new barrage has broken in the tension-filled region of the Middle East. The world, just as it was with the Ukraine invasion, is heavily polarised with the recent developments. And the developments are bloody.
The Palestinian group that is in power in the Gaza strip has launched several rockets into its bordering areas -which is deemed by them as "occupied territory". The state of Israel has retaliated by continuing the relentless air-raids in several areas of Palestine.
Now, the back and forth conflict and casualties are not new in the region- they have been going on since the past seventy-five years.
An estimated 15,000 Palestinians were killed, including in dozens of massacres, where 78 percent of historic Palestine was captured and the remaining 22 percent is what we see now in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip. An estimated 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes.
There may be several contesting opinions to the events of October 7, and there are some rightful condemnations of the actions- however, the week following the events witnessed some alarming instances of disinformation.
A CNN report claimed that the Palestinian group had 'beheaded forty Israeli children,' and the same was echoed by the US President and the Secretary of State; the same reporter and the outlet later went back and said that the news was unconfirmed.
The disinformation's damage had already been done, and with the support of empathy garnered, Israel launched an all-out offensive on Gaza, which included a blockade of basic resources like water, electricity and the internet.
On Monday, Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said it would impose a "complete siege" on the territory. "No electricity, no food, no water, no gas - it's all closed," he said, adding that "we are fighting animals and are acting accordingly." The Israeli infrastructure minister later ordered the immediate cut-off of water supplies to Gaza, (Source: BBC)
"As Gaza loses power, hospitals lose power, putting newborns in incubators and elderly patients on oxygen at risk. Kidney dialysis stops, and X-rays can’t be taken. Without electricity, hospitals risk turning into morgues"
- Fabrizio Carboni , Regional Director, International Committee of the Red Cross, .
In a TypeRight Earlier this year, we wrote on how the cutting of internet access actually worsens the quantity of wrong information floating around, and also hampers any sort of economic activity - making it harder for the community to get back on their feet after the conflict. This was highlighted in the case of Manipur and Kashmir, where frequent internet shutdowns had affected the local economy.
Disinformation sanctions war and blockades, and the information blackout, now, given the scale of the offensive happening, is not letting out crucial information, including war crimes.
Al Jazeera reports "At least 2,670 Palestinians, a quarter of them children, have been killed in Israeli air raids. The number of Israelis killed in Hamas’s military operation stands at 1,400, including 286 soldiers," and "more than 1,000 Palestinians missing under the rubble of buildings destroyed by Israeli air attacks on Gaza."
It is also not the case that the disinformation affects just the citizens in the warzones and occupied areas, as this news report from the US shows:
What are the casualties for the press, other than the spread of disinformation?
More materially speaking, at least eleven journalists have been killed in the past week in the areas of conflict, says the Committee to Protect Journalists.
This is not new in the region's history - it was only a few years ago that the IDF had killed an Al Jazeera journalist, shooting her in the head.
While AJ's lawsuit is pending at the International Criminal Court, the Israeli Police had attacked mourners who had joined the funeral.
Unsurprisingly, the Israeli government has now also tried clamping down on the reports coming in from Gaza - they want news agencies to shut down or be compliant. With an internet shutdown and almost no access to power, the shutdown of journalists would mean more atrocities without any method of checks.
And this is not like there was no pre-existing atrocities:
Across the world, people are also joining in solidarity to end the assault and air raids on the civilians of occupied Palestinian territories
However, in addition to the blackouts of the mainstream media barring a few outlets, there has been a platform wide limiting of reach and shadow-banning of users and posts that are talking about the war-crimes in Palestine. This has been reported mostly in Meta's Facebook and Instagram platforms.
Also, guess where a lot of this disinformation comes from?
"In another instance, a video circulated that falsely claimed to show Hamas kidnapping a Jewish baby. The video garnered more than a million views in one post alone. Seven of the top 10 most-shared tweets featuring the misleading video were profiles based in India or containing the Indian flag in their biography. These seven tweets alone received more than 3 million impressions on X. However, the video was from September and had nothing to do with kidnapping or indeed with Gaza."
The video debunk has already been mentioned earlier in today's article but this mention brings us to the next section of today's TypeRight -
In Other News Related to Censorship and Shutdowns,
Several arrests and raids at a growing independent media outlet sparks concerns over the country's slip and slide in the World Press Freedom Index:
In fact, the allegations on the FIR has run so wild that the organisations behind last year's farmers' protests have come out against the government.
Here's a detailed piece by IFF's Apar Gupta:
Internet shutdown continue in Manipur:
Be careful posting the links from this article on social media, because some state governments are not happy with it:
We'll be short with DEF Updates this week:
But most importantly, we were at IGF in Kyoto this year, and we'll be back with detailed commentary on the sessions there:
And, don't forget to join us in Hyderabad for the Digital Citizen Summit 2023!