Doha, Qatar: In an era where misinformation and biased reporting flood digital platforms, Professor Marc Owen Jones, an Associate Professor of Middle East Studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University of Qatar Foundation, sheds light on the challenges of misleading information, particularly in sensitive situations like the Israeli attacks on Gaza.
In navigating the complex landscape of misinformation, Professor Jones advocates for media literacy, critical thinking, and responsible journalism to foster a more informed and nuanced public discourse.
“Misinformation is the unintentional spread of false information, while disinformation is intentional and aims to cause harm,” Professor Jones said in an interview.
“Distinguishing disinformation from genuine information isn’t easy. Sensationalist claims, especially from unknown sources, require caution, and while knowing a source is helpful, it’s not guaranteed due to potential bias. For a more accurate understanding, exposing one to multiple sources with varying perspectives is important,” he added.
Professor Jones underscores the challenges faced by journalists covering the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Limited access, safety concerns, and the complexity of historical narratives hinder accurate reporting. The risk of bias propaganda and misinformation further complicates the task of providing objective information.
He also said that the language used in media narratives significantly influences public opinion.
“The use of [terrorism] versus [resistance] or [liberation movement] frames the same events and groups in radically different ways. The designation of terrorism delegitimizes Palestinian actions and groups. At the same time, Israel is rarely described in terms such as occupation or state-led terrorism, both of which are valid terms in such a context,” said Professor Jones.
“Dehumanizing tropes such as the [Palestinian mob] or simplistic religious frameworks reinforce harmful stereotypes. They deny the diversity of Palestinian society and the basic desire for dignity and justice. Terms such as [disputed territories] versus [illegal settlements] also colour perceptions of issues such as settlements, borders, East Jerusalem, etc. differently. Language implies legitimacy versus illegitimacy. Likewise, classifying all Palestinians who protest or resist as [extremists] or [Islamic jihadists] creates a stereotype of the oppressed population and limits sympathy for them,” he added.
Professor Jones explained that while social media allows direct sharing of Palestinian stories, it also amplifies disinformation and propaganda.
“On the negative side, social media has also enabled the rapid viral spread of disinformation and propaganda, empowering certain narratives through echo chambers and algorithms reinforcing bias.
“It has facilitated cyberbullying and dehumanization of groups based on ethnicity, religion, or views. The psychology of social media often worsens polarization,” he said.
“Addressing this involves educating people on responsible sharing and fostering constructive dialogue, platform reforms for algorithmic transparency, moderation of hate speech, fact-checking, and banning inauthentic coordinated accounts,” he added.
Professor Jones emphasised that journalists covering the Israeli attacks on Gaza must strive for accuracy, avoid dehumanizing tropes, and use appropriate terms.
“Do not ignore history; what is happening now is routed in occupation and settler-colonialism. Use appropriate terms – don’t let Israel off the hook by only referring to Palestinian attacks as brutal. Give parity to victims: a lot more Palestinians have been killed, where are their stories? And overall, be humane,” he said.
Professor Jones also highlighted that consumers of news about Palestine could employ strategies like checking the source’s credibility, seeking multifaceted narratives, and relying on respected journalism.
According to Professor Jones, educational institutions are pivotal in promoting media literacy.
He said that courses should focus on identifying misinformation, understanding media techniques, and fostering critical thinking. Incorporating diverse narratives, examining multiple perspectives, and emphasizing nuanced understanding are essential components.
Professor Jones imparts fundamental principles to students at HBKU, emphasising the importance of fact-checking, seeking first-hand accounts, approaching claims with scepticism, avoiding inflammatory content, and proactively seeking diverse perspectives.
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