Dangers of the media's mixed messages

By Adam Levick, July 10, 2014
Photo of Palestinian child wounded in 2008 was tweeted this week using the tag #gazaunderattack

Photo of Palestinian child wounded in 2008 was tweeted this week using the tag #gazaunderattack

"You have to keep an eye on who you are following on Twitter and where the picture you're tweeting came from," warned a BBC journalist in a short video that accompanied an article posted on BBC Trending, a section on the corporation's website which selects stories that are popular on social media around the world.

The article was entitled, "Are #GazaUnderAttack images accurate?", and looked at images shared on social media by pro-Palestinian activists during the current war in Gaza.

The short post focused on the above Twitter hashtag, which, the BBC noted, "has been used hundreds of thousands of times, often to distribute pictures claiming to show the effects of the air strikes".

The BBC warned that a "BBC Trending analysis has found that some date as far back as 2009 and others are from conflicts in Syria and Iraq".

As many know who follow sites that monitor media coverage of Israel, even seasoned journalists can be guilty of using the social media irresponsibly, lazily spreading viral inaccuracies through countless "shares" and "retweets" elicited by dramatic, evocative (but misleading or manipulated) photos.

Within the past few days, Sunday Times journalist Hala Jaber tweeted photos purportedly from the current conflict, but which were in fact several years old.

The BBC Trending exposé on the dangers of 'fauxtography' is of course a welcome sign

During the last conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2012, the BBC's Gaza correspondent Jon Donnison found himself at the centre of a storm after he retweeted to his 7,971 followers a

tweet by a Palestinian "journalist and social activist" named Hazem Balousha with a picture entitled "Pain in Gaza". Donnison added his own commentary to the photo, adding: "Heartbreaking".

The problem, as publicised by BBC Watch in a post which itself went viral, was that, as emotive as the photo was, it did not come from Gaza but from Syria.

Such misinformation is not limited to the sphere of the social media. Around the same time as Donnison's Tweet, the now iconic and heartbreaking image of a BBC Arabic journalist named Jehed Misharawi clutching his slain 11-month-old son wrapped in a shroud in Gaza went viral.

Newspapers in the UK and US characteristically rushed to judgment, declaring the boy to be a victim of an Israeli missile attack during the conflict.

Several months later, a UN report confirmed that Omar Misharawi was probably killed by an errant Palestinian rocket.

BBC Trending's recent exposé on the dangers of such "fauxtography" is of course a welcome sign.

However, the record of journalistic carelessness represents more evidence of the necessity for monitoring groups and citizen journalists holding the media to account for professional, accurate and ethical reporting within Twitter, Facebook and the more traditional media.

Adam Levick is the managing editor of CiF Watch, an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)

Last updated: 3:56pm, July 10 2014