Israel-Hamas “war” – another excuse to shut down free speech

Kit Knightly

As a brand new war-narrative unfolds, there’s already efforts underway to parlay the conflict into tighter controls on free speech and freedom of expression, both in person and on the internet.

The headlines have been filled with nothing but Israel and Hamas since the “surprise attack” on Saturday, with the predictable back and forth of historical grievances and accusations of racism, punctuated by unsubstantiated claims of atrocities.

“Atrocity Propaganda” is nothing new. It is the opening salvo of every war as state combatants try to win the public to their side.

For example, the totally unsubstantiated claim that Hamas “threw forty Jewish babies out of their cribs and beheaded them”, which was doing the rounds yesterday. As far as atrocity propaganda goes the claim is startling in its unoriginality (Nayirah anyone?)

There’s a lot of that right now, lurid claims of graphic and pointless violence directed against the innocent, most of which survives just long enough to cause some outrage before being “debunked” or walked-back.

Part of that is the general “fog of war”, heightened by the advent of social media. When a lot of people can talk a lot more is said (good and bad).

But there’s another interpretation: That fake war stories are being intentionally seeded onto social media and then “debunked” to discredit platforms and appear to justify digital censorship.

Within the past twenty-four hours Reuters, NBC, YahooNews, The Guardian and the AP have run stories criticising the proliferation of “fake war news” on social media. Al Jazeera joined in too.

Almost all of those accusations have been directed solely at Twitter/X – increasingly the media’s anti-free speech strawman.

Governments have not been quiet on the issue either, with the European Union reportedly “warning” Elon Musk there would be “penalties” for the spread of war-related “misinformation” on his platform.

It’s not just “misinformation” either, but also “hate”. In an unusually subtle headline, NBCNews warns of the “increasingly fraught nature of online speech”. USA Today is more on the nose, claiming “online hate” is “surging”.

Oh, and there are the “unregulated” sites to worry about, where terrorists allegedly upload violent videos, at least so the New York Times says:

Hamas Seeds Violent Videos on Sites With Little Moderation”

It’s not hard to see where this leads.

And while “misinformation” is used to justify social media censorship, “safety” is used to justify shutting down freedom of assembly.

In the UK and US pro-Palestinian rallies were met with calls for the police to get involved, citing laws that outlaw the public support of “listed terrorist organizations”.

UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman has told the police that waving a Palestinian flag could be considered a crime. Metropolitan police are engaging in “reassurance patrols”.

In France the police are already more directly involved, shutting down a pro-Palestine demonstration.

…and people applauded.

Many of them the same voices who railed against tyranny in defending the Canadian truckers or anti-lockdown protests. It is disheartening to see.

In short, the “war” is four days old and is already being used to suppress dissent on the streets and argue against free-speech on the internet.

However the war narrative evolves over there, over here it’s just more of the same.


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