Experts warn social media users to be aware of misinformation on Israel-Hamas war

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Misinformation about the conflict between Israel and Hamas is spreading rapidly across social media, and experts tell News 4 the research shows that misinformation spreads a lot faster and wider than the facts.

Videos and messages shared on TikTok, Facebook and X are blurring the lines between fact and fiction. UB professor Yotam Ophir says this is because information that is sensationalized and more dramatic is going to be more engaging. 

“Understanding you need to question information that seems outrageous, the bigger the argument the more outrageous, maybe the more it requires you to double check, to look at other websites,” Ophir, who specializes in media misinformation and extremism, said.

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He says most people can’t tell the difference if what they’re seeing or hearing is false.

When there’s a crisis, people want to know about it; they want to be informed and they want to get timely information. The problem, he says, is that the sites people are using to get up to date info are being flooded by all kinds of videos, photos and messages — and if you’re not careful you could come across a post that’s not accurate.

“At the areas where conflict takes place, misinformation can be even deadly. Not knowing whether it’s safe outside or not, not knowing whether there’s a threat or not could be a matter of life and death,” Ophir said. “For Americans following the conflict from afar, I know many of us want to take a side on the conflict where our preferences are… it has political implications, it has economic implications.”

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Ophir, who is Israeli, says he understands how certain information can lead to anger and frustration but he urges people to take the time and check where the information you’re viewing is coming from. 

“There is merit in admitting that you don’t know everything, that you need to listen, you need to be compassionate,” he said. “And be open in times of crises and that means trusting news sources and information sources that have proven themselves over the years to be more reliable.”

“Because people are not seeing the other side and that’s something that the algorithms that Facebook, TikTok tok and X use to try to make sure that they make money through their advertisers is going to have to change,” said Fred Floss, economics professor at Buffalo State University.

“Now with A.I. and other things, you can use my voice and say I said something I never said and that’s going to be a real problem for people. And what they really need to do is not just look at one or two posts but go out and search something if they’re really upset about it and see what other people are saying,” Floss said.

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Sarah Minkewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been a part of the News 4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMinkewicz and click here to see more of her work.

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