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Shattering barriers: social media’s disruption of traditional media narratives

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Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, with a majority of those killed being women and children. Despite this colossal death toll, it seems that this conflict is nowhere near over. While broadcast television and traditional media has persisted with censorship of the realities of the war, social media has been a striking contrast. Digital platforms have been filled with raw footage of raids and airstrikes on hospitals and mosques in Gaza. 

Though traditional media in the modern era continues to be strictly supervised by corporate and political elites who wish to shape narratives to suit their personal profitable interests, the digital revolution has introduced new avenues for the public to receive information from diverse perspectives, challenging the authority of mainstream news.

In the landscape of traditional media, which includes forms of established mass communications such as television, radio and newspapers, an alarming statistic emerges: six corporations control 90% of the media in America. This concentration of ownership allows for immense power in the hands of a select few elites whose corporate interests oftentimes sway the narratives disseminated through these media outlets. Because of this, there is a lack of truthfulness and compassion when mainstream media covers the Palestinian perspective. A major reason for this is protection of American oil interests, resulting in the public not being properly aware and informed of a conflict spanning over 80 years.

In contrast to the controlled narratives of traditional media, social media has developed into a powerful tool for shaping discourse and providing voice to the people. Due to technology, Palestinians have the ability to share first-hand accounts of the conflict in real-time, offering an unfiltered perspective of their daily realities and struggles. With this power, there is a striking contradiction between the news shared in dominant media landscapes and platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. 

This marks a new wave in the democratization of information, where people can challenge the mainstream narrative and offer perspectives that are traditionally marginalized. Technology has lowered barriers and has allowed people to spread news with minimal obstacles. The rule of government and corporate entities involved in the production of information has diminished greatly, causing them to lose power in controlling the narrative. 

In regards to Palestine, the contradicting information shared from mainstream news and social media has caused distrust to foster. Confidence in major institutions was already shockingly low, with a Gallup poll showing trust in the newspaper for Americans is at 16% and television news is at 11%. After the bombardment  of Gaza since October 7, another Gallup poll found that only 7% of Americans have a “great deal” of trust and confidence in the media. With people being able to access eyewitness testimonies and real-time updates with their phones, the disparity between narratives has provoked already existing skepticism. 

The shift in trust represents the broader trend of the decentralization of power with the growth of the Internet and technology. Information is able to be spread through grassroots movements and independent reporters, allowing the public to make their own informed decisions and beliefs. The very landscape of public discourse is being reshaped by social media’s impact. 

While the democratization of media has opened doors for providing a voice for the oppressed, it has also allowed and fostered a platform for extremist beliefs. The lack of regulation that enables such openness and freedom of speech also lets in deliberately misleading content. Extremist viewpoints elicit anger translating to real-word harm, such as the death of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Muslim boy who was stabbed to death as a result of an attack motivated by anti-Palestinian extremism. While social media provides a voice to the public, the companies in this field prioritize profit from extremist content. The absence of  proper checks and balances to limit the spread of fake news poses a significant problem in the integrity of alternative news sources.

With the growing power of social media to disseminate information, we are at a critical turning point in choosing how we navigate the complexities of the digital age. Through responsible engagement and proper oversight, a digital landscape that promotes empathy and a free exchange of ideas can be cultivated, offering a compelling alternative from traditional news outlets. 

Written by an anonymous UCI community member. Edited by Jacob Ramos.