by Ayesha Siddiqui 

Source: Ayesha Siddiqui

What’s so special about the news? 

With its claims of being a cornucopia of knowledge and truth, the news declares itself as the harbinger of free speech and the correct, factual, and accurate reporting of international affairs. Maybe that’s it, then. Or, maybe it’s that they’re so good at what they do that we believe them.

Now, contrary to what you may be thinking, I’m no conspiracy theorist. Rather, I just think that it’s staggeringly obvious that news outlets have rarely been good at hiding the skeletons in their closet when it comes to disseminating the unabridged truth. Of course, they do try; CNN’s bold slogan, “Go Beyond Borders” creates a refreshing facade of offering a broad spectrum of perspectives—as well as subtly boasting their international reach. Meanwhile, The Washington Post’s, slightly more cynical “Democracy Dies in Darkness” promises that truth will always reign under free speech. 

My examples aren’t arbitrary either—I have deliberately chosen exclusively Western-run news outlets because, as of October 2023, the top ten news sources globally, including both television channels and newspapers, hail from either the United States or the United Kingdom. And while the implications of their reach have often been a cause for dissent in the non-Western world, these concerns become increasingly dire when attempts to set themselves as a model of true democracy for the world are maliciously paired with bold, glaringly obvious lies, and are then used to placate public opinion in committing global barbarities on a scale that can only be labelled as diabolical. 

Yes, I am talking about Palestine. But I am not only talking about Palestine. I am talking about Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq and every single time the United States of America has not only been complicit in, but has actively instigated the mass extermination of civilian populations in their eternally bloodthirsty quest for authority and control. Yet, for arguably as long as new mediums of digital communication have existed, there has been public resistance. 

In the 1960s, Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan suggested that the advent of digital media was enabling the public to be used as a “creative, participating force” in contemporary politics, where “the living room has become a voting booth” and “participation via television in Freedom Marches, in war, revolution, pollution, and other events is changing everything.” It is certainly intriguing that McLuhan awarded such potential to television alone, yet there is something to be said about this medium of communication as opposed to more analogue mediums, such as newspapers and books. The Vietnam War, for example, is often described as the first televised war, with a notable correlation between graphic news coverage of Vietnamese atrocities and public antiwar protests. 

Perhaps, then, there is something to be found in the collective memory of live broadcasts. This became apparent once again in 1991, where CNN’s coverage of the Gulf War war, whose “broadcasts from downtown Baghdad were a key rise to prominence in American television and global communications”. Many Americans, for example, can still remember the first bombs being dropped on Baghdad in 1991.  This collective memory aspect of live television is often used to promote both patriotism and nationalism, as it creates a certain atmosphere of unity between subjects at the receiving end of such news, whilst simultaneously creating a divide between the ideologies of the other side. 

McLuhan’s analysis describes a level of widespread interaction that is provoked by the very viewing of television itself. Yet television is a double-edged sword. Despite the very real potential it holds to spark public participation in politics, as with Vietnam, once this potential was realised, what was disseminated arguably became more cautiously curated to garner a specific sentiment. Television as a medium is parasocial at best. What is delivered is often nefariously one-sided, with numerous stories and perspectives left out of the narrative entirely. The causes that receive and spark public outrage are only those that are known—or at least believed. 

That was, until the advent of social media. 

Today, the theatre of war occupies a new location: cyberspace. It is a place that has thrown the dynamic between mainstream news and the ordinary citizen entirely off-kilter. Armed with the ultimate antidote to government propaganda, the smartphone, here, everyone is a journalist. With the “subversive” nature of the Internet diminishing the “source credibility” of these usually authoritative voices, the Internet has become the future nightmare that all politicians dreaded— “the source of a daily referendum on their actions.”

With nowhere to hide, then, one would expect mainstream media to cover the plight of Palestine justly and accurately. On-the-ground coverage from Gazan journalists, the voices of historians well-versed in the occupation, and stories from the global Palestinian diaspora, through social media, have revealed the truth of the 75-year-long occupation of Palestine. We are now witnessing the largest movement for the Palestinian cause in its history—yet, years of systematic oppression, silencing, and propaganda from the world’s great powers means that mainstream media continues to emit its propagandistic news—making it as crucial as ever to combat it.

 Since October 7th, the disparity between the coverage of civilian deaths in both Palestine and Israel has been jarring. BBC reports detailing the killing of Israeli civilians are emotively constructed, with victims described as “brutally killed” and their families as “laden with grief”. Meanwhile, Palestinian civilians whose family members were killed by Israel are described simply as having passively “lost” their families, with little description of their emotional state. While Israeli victims are talked about by name, and are humanised with descriptions of their personalities and hobbies, Palestinian victims are afforded no such privilege, and their individual identities are often ultimately dispensable.

Western media has also been falsely labelling this as a religious war between Jews and Muslims, ignoring the reality that not all Palestinians are Muslim, and not all Jews are Zionist. Anti-Zionism is regularly conflated with anti-Semitism to add fuel to the fire; those who speak up for the right of Palestinians to live, such as Melissa Barrera and Susan Sarandon, are fired from their jobs for promoting “anti-Semitism”, whilst individuals like Noah Schnapp who proclaim that Zionism, an inherently racist ideology, is “sexy” are turned a blind eye on. 

Worse still, Palestinian children have been called “children of darkness”, “human animals” who live by the “laws of the jungle”, as opposed to the Israeli “children of light”. Such flagrantly racist and dehumanising language has been used countlessly by the Israeli government, therefore warranting the genocidal acts committed against them—with the unequivocal support of the United States. Palestinian accounts are regularly censored, shadowbanned, and taken down on social media platforms. Most cable systems in the US entirely refuse to carry the Middle Eastern news network Al Jazeera. It is truly Orwellian. Over 7,000 Palestinian children have been massacred since October 7th; yet, who is to blame for this blatant apathy towards Palestinian lives? We will never forget the world’s outrage, on the breakout of war in Ukraine, that the “blue-eyed” and “blonde-haired” lives that were being lost were from a place that was “relatively civilised”—unlike the “developing, third world nations” for whom war is “forever and always an ordinary routine”. And such is the tragedy of the Western world. Despite their celebratory musings of tolerance, progress, and liberation, these claims are but a facade to mask the racist, colonial residue that perhaps never left to begin with. 

But we live in fascinating times. Victims of Western oppression and domination have never held the level of influence they do today to make their voices heard—and they are doing just that. The revolution isn’t coming, it’s here. Critics of “clicktivism” perhaps don’t yet realise the potential of social media to dismantle the power structures that define our world, as well as to expose the hypocrisy of the Western world and their Orientalist worldviews that are projected onto the rest of the world. Or perhaps they don’t want to. For those that continue to espouse the overly romanticised and idealistic fantasy of “real” activism, conjuring up visuals of swarms of people taking to the streets and demanding change—well, look no further. The global protests for Palestinian liberation have been in the hundreds of thousands, due to the awareness raised on social media. But that’s not at all to say that “real” activism can only exist as such. Social media plays a crucial role in retiring racist tropes and stereotypes, dismantling a maybe less tangible, but equally pertinent atmosphere of oppression. The racist trope of Palestinians (but, really, all Arabs), for example, as violent and belligerent barbarians can only hold for so long when Palestinians are exposing the genocide and Israeli occupation via Instagram reels, a medium that youths worldwide are eerily familiar with. You mean that Palestinians are people too, just like us? Shocker, I know. 

But perhaps the biggest triumph of social media was revealed in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice earlier this week. In a manner truly unprecedented, the evidence screened in the courtroom was largely from social media posts, such as footage uploaded on Instagram by news outlets. While the role of social media as an alternative to biased mainstream media is certainly vital, we must not forget the very foundations on which this alternative holds irrefutable authority: record-keeping. 

Where there is a means of rapid, globalised communication, there is an avenue for resistance. Perhaps social media is our latest tool to expose the horrors of the Western narrative. Perhaps now, more than ever, we may live to see a world where anticolonial resistance finally topples the hierarchies of oppression we have endured for so long.

They always warned us about our digital footprint, didn’t they?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *