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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Americans experiencing Israel-Hamas war through their phones

Young Americans are facing the newest battlefield of the Israel/Palestine war on their phones. (Mylie Bluhn)

The latest battleground in the Israel-Hamas conflict is on your phone. 

Social media is the new proxy war of public opinion among young Americans. Instagram accounts have new identities shaped around the Israel-Hamas war. Profiles feature Israeli and Palestinian flags and links to fundraisers helping either side. 

Since Oct. 7, when Hamas launched a terror attack on Israel, killing nearly 1,200 people and taking hundreds hostage, junior Bali Lavine has shared infographics and support for Israel on her Instagram account. Her profile reads “Proud Zionist” and tags two pro-Israel groups.

“The comment section itself is a war zone,” she said. She got 500 comments on one post. 

Lavine recently hosted an online fundraiser for Israel, and her comment section was full of “blatantly disgusting antisemitic big bullies,” she said. But she put a spin on it. “For each of the hateful comments I was donating $3 to Israel. For each death threat I got it was $5.”

Social media has also become a storytelling medium for Palestinians posting the war in real time. Motaz Azaiza is a Palestinian with over 18 million Instagram followers. He is documenting the war in real time on his Instagram account, @motaz_azaiza. “I wish I can cover it all, but I’ll try to cover what I can without risking my life,” Azaiza said in a video. 

Tulane4Palestine, a student group not recognized by Tulane University, said in an email to The Hullabaloo, “we are disgusted and appalled by the images we see every day on social media. However, their effect on us is impossibly small compared to the real physical and psychic harm the occupation inflicts on the Palestinian children and students of Gaza and the West Bank.”

Posts regarding the conflict have impacts beyond Instagram. 

“I had a lot of people in my feed who would post very aggressive things towards Israel … and antisemitic things,” junior Sophie Bernstein said. “People that I considered really good friends, I can’t be friends with anymore. I feel like they don’t care about me and didn’t care to understand my perspective.”

A Tulane sophomore named Taylor, who did not give his last name, also said he had online content breach his real-life relationships. 

“This is a moment that I feel like as a friend, I should be like, ‘Hey, can we talk about this to greater understand your perspective, as well as share mine with you?’” Taylor said. “Certain ones have not been received well, but I think some have been received very well. And it has been very good for my relationships with certain people.”

A recent study by The Washington Post found that, in the United States, the hashtag #freepalestine was used 38 times more than #standwithisrael on TikTok, but both videos tagged #Israel and #Palestine received 2 billion views. 

Accuracy of information online is another concern. 

“Scrolling on my Instagram explore feed being like, okay, this is a number they’re throwing at me right now, but I couldn’t really tell you if that number is checked, or who that number came from. So do I believe that number?” Taylor said. “I’m seeing it has a million likes. So I feel like I should believe that number.”

After Oct. 7, Bernstein deleted Instagram. “People posting pro-Palestine or pro-Hamas content or even just personal content; I would get really aggravated and feel resentful for people, feeling like they didn’t care,” Bernstein said. 

Traumatic content has proliferated on social media, with videos, photographs and descriptions of violence from Israel and Gaza flooding feeds.

“I think it’s necessary, to a point,” sophomore Silas Gillett said. “They pale in comparison to the real level of pain experienced by the people represented in these images and videos.”

“I’m not saying I’m mad that it’s put in [my face] because it makes me think,” Taylor said. “But I don’t think it’s fair to be having a really good day sometimes and it’ll be brought down because you see a really, really sad video on Instagram.”

While the war in Gaza continues, so does the war of public opinion. 

Taylor, a supporter of Palestine, said he sees mostly similar views on his social media feed.

“All the content I get is statistics as to why people need to be sending aid to Gaza … as to help Palestinians,” Taylor said. “I don’t hear anything about Israel anymore.”

“A lot of my followers are pro-Israel, they hold some of the same beliefs,” Lavine said. “Am I just preaching to the choir?”

Al Jazeera, a news company owned by Qatar, wrote in an op-ed, “social media users are openly mocking Israel’s desperate attempts to control the narrative of its war on Gaza.”

Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post called social media “the third front” of the conflict. 

“I see the U.S. as the main theater for this ‘war,’” Gillett said. Because the U.S. is a major supporter of Israel, Gillett said “our votes directly determine the future of Israel.”

“Arguing with people online is never going to be productive,” Taylor said. “Y’all are sitting here fighting like eight year olds in Instagram comments when honestly, neither of y’all can tell me what happened in the past 90 years of this conflict.”

“Some Jewish people are afraid to outwardly show their support on the street by wearing Magen David or Judaica,” Lavine said. “Posting on Instagram is what they contribute to the war of public opinion. And that’s incredible.”

Oct. 7 is not the only time social media has become a battleground for a controversy, but Lavine said this feels different.

“I’ve gone to [Black Lives Matter] protests, I’ve marched for women’s rights, I’ve marched for the LGBTQ+ community. I’m not part of [all] of those, but I support them and I posted about them and I’ve done my research on them,” Lavine said. “A lot of these people who support these movements are not supportive of Israelis.” 

“I am depressed, disgusted and horrified by the images I’ve seen coming out of Gaza and it weighs on me every day,” Gillett said.

But he still uses Instagram.

“I think if we’re going to have social media and it’s going to display every aspect of our life, then it’s important that we put our beliefs on social media,” Bernstein said. “But it was just too much for me.”

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