Public backlash was swift for breaking news reports about a blast at a Gaza hospital complex last week. Image credit: Shutterstock.com.
Major news organizations like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times were publicly criticized following coverage of an Oct. 17 blast at a Gaza hospital complex that killed at least 100 people and possibly hundreds more. Initial reports and news alerts conveyed statements from Palestinian officials who said the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike. But by the next day both newspapers updated their reporting with statements from U.S. and Israeli government officials who claimed to have evidence that Israel was not responsible for the explosion.
A Times spokesman said that during breaking news events “we report what we know as we learn it” and that as facts emerged, they continued reporting. This process was slowed by the fact that the site of the blast wasn’t accessible to journalists and by the amount of time it took Israeli officials to release their findings following the quick statement from the Palestinians. However, given the sensitive nature of the news, a Times editor’s note said “editors should have taken more care with the initial presentation, and been more explicit about what information could be verified.”
Discuss: Why does wartime reporting present such a unique challenge for journalists? How are facts verified during a breaking news story? How should standards-based news organizations respond when a reporting mistake is made?
Note: The Wall Street Journal released a video analysis of the explosion nearly a week after it happened. Deeper reporting like this takes extra time for journalists to gather and interpret.
Social media and messaging accounts sympathetic to Hamas are spreading extremist messages and violent imagery from the Palestinian militant group, despite a ban on Hamas content by major platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and X (formerly Twitter). Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, followers of a Hamas-linked Telegram account rose from 340,000 to about 1.3 million. As tech companies struggle to moderate false and extremist content, experts say accounts like these are taking advantage of the instability and attention to the region to spread their messaging.
In modern wartime, information is often shaped by social media. The Israeli government, for example, launched a global public relations campaign after the war began, using social media ads to build support.
Discuss: What percent of your social media feed is made up of posts about the war? How often do you consider the differences between the primary purposes of these posts? How should major social media platforms make decisions about which people and organizations to ban?
A popular Instagram account based in Miami, called Only in Dade, has become a go-to source of local news and entertainment for over a million followers. The account is a clearinghouse for user-submitted content — alligator sightings, beach and nightlife antics, traffic incidents and more — and has staff who conduct interviews and make editorial decisions.
Some Miami journalists have expressed annoyance with the account for amplifying posts containing errors or lacking context, but some say this type of account may become a common alternative to standards-based local news as more and more newspapers disappear.
Discuss: Have you seen any hyperlocal meme or neighborhood news accounts crop up about your town or region? If so, what kind of content do they post? Do they seem to have standards for accuracy and fairness? What do you think about accounts like these as a source of local news?
NO: This viral video does not show a Hamas rocket misfiring and striking the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City on Oct. 17. YES: This video has been online since at least August 2022, well before the current Israel-Hamas war started on Oct. 7. YES: A massive blast rocked the hospital complex on Oct. 17, killing an unknown number of victims. YES: In the immediate aftermath, Israel and Hamas traded blame for the blast.
NewsLit takeaway: False claims are created and spread almost immediately following a tragic event. They often push specific political narratives but are also sometimes intended to simply muddy the waters and make it more difficult for people to discern fact from fiction. When following breaking news on social media, it is critically important to double-check sources and remember the adage, “A lie makes it halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.”
Editor’s note:This RumorGuard piece was revised on Oct. 25 to reflect the latest updates on this developing story.
NO: This video does not show Qatar’s emir threatening to cut off a significant portion of the world’s natural gas supply due to the Israel-Hamas war. YES: The video is from 2017 and shows the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, speaking at the opening sessions of the Doha Forum, a gathering for global leaders. YES: A professor of Middle East studies translated the seven-second clip and told the Associated Press that Qatar’s emir said: “The issue of Palestine, I’ll begin by saying it’s a case of a people uprooted from their lands, and displaced from their nation.”
NewsLit takeaway: This viral rumor relies on two tactics to spread this falsehood about Qatar. First, it takes an old video clip of a speech by the emir of Qatar out of context — a relatively easy thing to do with a short clip of someone speaking at an event. Second, the rumor exploits a language barrier, a frequent strategy of purveyors of disinformation. When people encounter a translated video, they should first look at its source. Who is providing the translation? Are they trustworthy? In this case, an account that regularly propagates false claims spread the translation. Considering the source is key to evaluating viral posts.
A NewsGuard analysis found that “verified” X accounts produce nearly three-quarters of the platform’s viral misinformation on the Israel-Hamas war.
Just seven individual accounts on X got a cumulative total of 1.6 billion views during the initial three days of the Israel-Hamas war — outperforming posts shared by legitimate news organizations, according to a study from the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington.
A 25-year-old Nebraska woman bought her local small-town newspaper, which she writes, edits and distributes herself, with occasional help from her family.
After journalist Yanqi Xu exposed high levels of nitrates on Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen’s hog farm, Pillen responded by trying to use her status as an immigrant from China to impugn her credibility. “As a believer in democracy and a free press, it saddens me,” Xu’s employer wrote in her defense.
A recent Gallup survey found that only 32% of respondents trusted mainstream media “a great deal” or “a fair amount.” Social media companies also have a low level of trust — about 77% of Americans surveyed have little or no trust that the companies would admit mistakes and take responsibility for data misuse, according to a Pew Research Center report.