In defense of social media and the internet: correcting fake news

October 01, 2018

NOT A SINGLE BRITISH PUBLICATION AGREED TO LET READERS KNOW THEY HAD BEEN LIED TO

“In those pre-social media, pre-blogging days, there were very few means of correcting the misreporting of the supposedly reliable mainstream media.”

I attach a piece I wrote that ran alongside an article by a former Harvard fellow who argues that the Internet and social media are a dangerous space for news, and we should rely solely on the traditional mainstream news media. I argue that in some circumstances, for example, where Israel is concerned, it isn’t always that simple.

 

WHEN IT COMES TO ISRAEL, THE INTERNET CAN CORRECT FAKE NEWS, NOT JUST SPREAD IT

Social media can correct as well as deceive
By Tom Gross
Jewish Chronicle (London)
September 28, 2018

https://www.thejc.com/comment/analysis/gaza-social-media-fake-news-israel-1.470409

It is fashionable to claim that the internet is a purveyor and spreader of fake news. This may be true in certain respects, but when it comes to Israel, I would argue the opposite is often the case.

Take one small example from April 2002, before Facebook, Twitter and YouTube had been invented, and the term blog was barely known.

That month, almost every British news outlet repeated the same lie, day after day, about events in the West Bank town of Jenin – and it was all but impossible for audiences to know the truth.

The Daily Telegraph reported the IDF had “stripped [the Palestinians] to their underwear, they were searched, bound hand and foot, placed against a wall and killed with single shots to the head.”

The Evening Standard spoke of Israel’s “staggering brutality and callous murder.” “We are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up, of genocide,” wrote a columnist for the paper.

Janine di Giovanni of the Times wrote: “Rarely in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life.”

ON THE CLAIMS OF A SINGLE INDIVIDUAL

These reports seem to have been based on the claims of a single individual: “Kamal Anis, a labourer” (The Times), “Kamal Anis, 28” (The Daily Telegraph), “A quiet, sad-looking young man called Kamal Anis” (The Independent).

The Independent reported: “Kamal Anis saw the Israeli soldiers pile 30 bodies beneath a half-wrecked house. When the pile was complete, they bulldozed the building, bringing its ruins down on the corpses. Then they flattened the area with a tank.”

The Times wrote: “Kamal Anis says the Israelis levelled the place; he saw them pile bodies into a mass grave, dump earth on top, then ran over it to flatten it.”

The Western media claimed 500 Palestinian civilians had been killed, mostly in mass graves.

None of this was true. You only had to read Palestinian reports, as I did, to realize this.

A “GREAT VICTORY AGAINST THE JEWS”

Later, Human Rights Watch reluctantly acknowledged that Israel had been telling the truth: 52 Palestinians (mostly gunmen) and 23 Israeli soldiers had died in door-to-door combat. The Israelis were trying to close down suicide bomb making factories. The Palestinian media termed the fighting a “great victory against the Jews”.

There were no people lined up against walls and shot, and no mass graves. Palestinian hospital sources in Jenin also put the total number of dead at 52.

I wrote an article (Jeningrad: What the British media said) pointing this out. Yet not a single British publication agreed to publish it, and it was left to an American magazine, the National Review, to run the piece – not a publication that would enable most British readers to find out they had been lied to.

Years later Alan Rusbridger, then editor of The Guardian, apologized for some of the paper’s Jenin coverage.

But in those pre-social media, pre-blogging days, there were very few means of correcting the misreporting of the supposedly reliable mainstream media.

FAST FORWARD TO 2018

Fast forward to May 2018, when the media again rushed to claim Israel was massacring Palestinians civilians, this time on the Gaza border.

Yet, as was the case with Jenin, some Palestinians officials acknowledged the truth: Hamas and Islamic Jihad said the vast majority of the dead were its operatives, naming them. Gaza doctors said that the only baby that had died was not killed by Israel, as the media claimed, but had passed away from a pre-existing medical condition.

This time, social media was awash with reports and links to Hamas’ website, enough to force much of the mainstream media (including the BBC, though not Jeremy Corbyn) into quickly re-adjusting their reports.

CONSIDER THE HOLOCAUST

While it is distressing that social media often allows extremist and abusive views to be aired, including anti-Semitic ones, it also serves as a necessary corrective to much traditional reporting.

Consider The Holocaust. Had papers such as the New York Times (then the most important news outlet in the world) not deliberately minimized news of the death camps, had they been cajoled into reporting on them properly by social media, FDR may have been forced to intervene and bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

(Tom Gross is a former Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph)

 

Traditional media wrongly accused Israel of murdering a baby in Gaza in May 2018 whereas social media revealed that Palestinian doctors said the baby had died naturally of a pre-existing condition.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.