Teens struggle to identify misinformation about Israel-Hamas conflict – world’s second ‘social media war’

Decimated neighborhoods. Injured children. Terrorized festival goers run for their lives. Since the brutal war between Israel and Hamas began nearly three months ago, Maddy Miller, a 17-year-old high school senior in Dallas, Texas, has been trying to make sense of the horrific scenes that unfold daily on her phone.

“I just open TikTok or Instagram and it’s like, “here’s a clip from inside Israel or inside Palestine,” Miller said. “Sometimes I just need to sit down for 10 minutes and actually figure out what’s going on. It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s fake.”

In February 2022, war in Ukraine started playing on Tik Tok and Instagram. The conflict in the Middle East is now the second war seen in vivid, and often intimate, vignettes on social media, where 51% of younger Gen Z teens get their news, according to a Deloitte study. The war between Israel and Hamas has also unleashed a tidal wave of misinformation and disinformation that reaches American teenagers like Miller.

In a packed classroom at Highland Park High School, Miller and about 30 other students are studying media literacy, a course many teenagers across the United States don’t have to take. Texas is one of only four states in the United States to mandate a media literacy curriculum in all public schools beginning in kindergarten. Fourteen other states offer some form of media literacy instruction or online resources for public school students.

Classes in media literacy

As part of each lesson, Brandon Jackson teaches students the tools necessary to spot misinformation that is false or misleading, and disinformation that is intentionally misleading. He also tests his students using real-world examples of fake videos circulating on social media.

“The whole point of this is to analyze major international news events,” Jackson told his students. “How does information change when you look at it on social media? Is it manipulative?”

Despite the technological advantage young Americans have over older generations, Stanford University researchers Sam Wineberg and Joel Breakstone say teenagers’ ability to identify misinformation on social media is worryingly low.

“Video has a kind of immediacy, but we have to help people understand how to evaluate a video,” Wineberg said. “Is the person providing the video an objective source? Is there a reputational cost if that person is wrong, or are they a ‘rando’ who has sensational footage and is a rage peddler?”

Stanford research shows that tech-savvy teens still fall for fake videos


Wineberg and Breakstone tested high school students’ ability to identify misinformation on social media. They selected more than 3,000 students whose backgrounds reflected the demographics of the United States and asked them to determine whether an anonymous video was real or fake.

“The video purported to show voter fraud in the United States,” Breakstone explained. “If you did a quick Internet search, you could discover within 30 seconds that the video actually showed voter fraud in Russia. But out of the more than 3,000 students, how many students actually discovered the link to Russia? Three. That’s less than a tenth of 1%.”

The experiment

A CBS News investigation revealed how quickly misinformation and disinformation reaches teenage social media accounts. In an experiment, a team of journalists created three different profiles on Instagram and TikTok.

One account searched for simple terms on Israel; another searched for simple Palestinian terms; and the last account searched both. Each alias also followed several accounts with more than 1,000 followers, “liking” a handful of posts for each one.

While the faux-teen accounts were initially fed typical teenage content, like posts about getting ready for high school and makeup tutorials, on TikTok and Instagram, the algorithms also factored in the searches. Not long after the search terms were entered, every feed was flooded with war-related content, including misinformation.

In a widely debunked video, a person who claimed to work at a hospital in Gaza claimed that Hamas had overrun the facility.


In a widely debunked video, a person claiming to work at a hospital in Gaza claimed that Hamas had overrun the facility. She said she had to operate on a child without morphine. An analysis revealed that the video was staged and even the explosions were manufactured. Another video now revealed claimed to show an Iranian warplane landing on an Israeli aircraft carrier.

“It looks like a video game to me,” said Dan Evon of the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan group that advocates for media literacy in schools.

Evon has spent his career deciphering fact from fiction on social media. He also teaches young people how to spot misinformation and disinformation. The key to that is what he calls “pre-bunking”: equipping them with the tools to help identify misinformation before they fall for it.

“The same tip I give every single time is to slow down,” Evon said. “Search for authenticity; search for the source; search for evidence; search for reasoning and to look for context.”

“More Dangerous Paths”

From the much talked about resignation by the president of the University of Pennsylvania, to high school walkouts in San Francisco and New York City, the war has undeniably created a tense climate in schools across the country. Reports of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic threats and the violence has increased.

“It doesn’t feel like we’re living in 2023. It feels like we’re living in Nazi Germany,” said one student.

Experts such as Evon, Breakstone and Wineberg said false or misleading information could intensify the already heated debates about this conflict.

“As young people develop their view of the world, false claims change it,” Evon said. “They’re pulling people down more dangerous paths.”

The students at Highland Park High School agree.

“It can just be really dangerous if we don’t seek out the right information,” Miller said. “I hope people in our generation start to become more educated about issues.”

Answer from TikTok

CBS News discussed the experiment’s results with TikTok spokespersons. After the team sent the company links to examples of misinformation, those posts were removed.

“TikTok works relentlessly to remove harmful misinformation and works with independent fact-checkers who assess the accuracy of content in more than 50 languages,” a TikTok spokesperson said. We have removed more than 131,000 videos for misinformation since the start of the Israel-Hamas war and direct people searching for content related to the conflict to Reuters.”

TikTok spokespersons also said:

  • Our Community Guidelines are clear that we do not allow inaccurate, misleading or false content that could cause significant harm to individuals or communities, regardless of intent. We have reviewed content sent to us by CBS and have removed content that violates our policies.
  • We use one combination of technology and human moderation to enforce these guidelinesand we review content at multiple stages, including initial upload, when content is reported to us, and as it grows in popularity.
  • We’re over it 40,000 skilled security personnel dedicated to keeping TikTok safe. We also trust independent fact-checking partners and our database of previously fact-checked claims to help assess content accuracy. we work with 17 fact-checking partners globally, covering over 50 languages ​​globally.
  • We provide access to authoritative information at the very top of the search to provide access to facts. For example, searching for “Israel” on TikTok directs people to resources from Reuters.

Answer from Meta about Instagram

“We’ve taken significant steps to combat the spread of misinformation using a three-pronged strategy — remove content that violates our community standards, flag and reduce distribution of stories flagged as false by third-party fact-checkers,” said a Meta- spokesperson. . “We also label content and inform people so they can decide what to read, trust and share.”

The Meta spokesperson also said:

  • We work with third-party fact-checkers in the region to debunk false claims. Meta has the largest third-party fact-checking network of any platform, with coverage in both Arabic and Hebrew through AFP, Reuters and Fatabyyano. When they rate something as fake, we move that content lower in the feed so less people see it.
  • We recognize the importance of speed in moments like this, so we’ve made it easier for fact-checkers to find and rate content related to the war by using keyword tracking to group related content in one place.
  • We’re also giving people more information to decide what to read, trust and share by adding warning labels to content classified as fake by third-party fact-checkers and applying labels to state-controlled media publishers.

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