Disinformation about the Hamas-Israel conflict: Impacts on Aotearoa New Zealand

Public statement by The Disinformation Project

Background and local context

The Disinformation Project is an independent research group that studies disinformation networks and their impacts in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Since 7 October, we have witnessed a growth of false and/or misleading information relating to the conflict between Hamas and Israel on social media platforms. This includes incorrect information shared unknowingly (misinformation) and false and harmful information shared purposefully (disinformation).

This false and/or misleading information has taken many forms in New Zealand social media communities. Including:

  • Sharing unverified footage and images from the conflict, including bystander and participant footage in some cases.
  • Sharing reporting from the conflict which is as-yet unverified.
  • Sharing footage of earlier conflicts and events, purporting to be current.
  • The removal of important context from commentary on unfolding events.

The unfolding conflict comes at a time when Aotearoa New Zealand online disinformation networks are engaged with Islamophobic and antisemitic ideologies in greater volume than we have previously seen.

This includes Holocaust denial, slurs, extermination ideation and sharing footage from or related to the Christchurch Mosque attacks in greater numbers than were present immediately after the attacks.

Further information explaining the current context of white supremacist ideology is available in our latest public report.

Emerging concerns

Reductionism and targeting

Of immediate concern to The Disinformation Project are the many local disinformation networks using the unfolding conflict to encourage false and harmful ideas that target Jewish, Muslim, and Palestinian individuals and communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Specifically, we are witnessing individuals and groups spreading high volumes of disinformation that seeks to deliberately conflate:

  • All Muslims, Palestinians and people who have stated support for Palestine, with the actions of Hamas; thereby labelling and conflating all these people as ‘terrorists’; and
  • All Israelis and Jewish people with actions of the government of Israel; using this to justify overt and violent antisemitism.

These conflations are false, based on white supremacist ideology, and should be treated as an ongoing harm to the people and communities they are targeting.

The spread of content featuring violence and gore

Since 7 October, the volume of violence and gore shared across social media platforms has grown to a level we have never previously seen.

While some of this content is fake (including computer-generated images claiming to be from the conflict), much of the content depicts the realities of war, but nonetheless deeply harmful at the volume and ease with which it is being shared.

The Disinformation Project notes that imagery of violence, especially towards civilians and children, can be an important capturing of the human cost of conflict which helps advocacy and accountability on a global level. However, it can also serve as a tool for social mobilisation against perceived foes, fostering anger that drives violent confrontations.

There is little to no distinction now between Telegram and X/Twitter in terms of the availability of graphic violence. This level of violence is also freely accessible on other platforms, including Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat.

The Disinformation Project wishes to highlight the psychological impact this content is likely to have on groups in Aotearoa New Zealand, including:

  • Children and young people, who are being exposed to a level of graphic violence that even experienced war crime reporters are struggling to process.
  • Refugees and migrants from conflict zones, who may be re/traumatised by this content.
  • Members of Palestinian, Muslim and Jewish communities for whom this conflict is personal and, for some, involves their friends and families.

We note that this extremely violent content is now commonplace in both ‘mainstream’ disinformation networks and in local neo-nazi networks that are repurposing it in a manner that amplifies antisemitic sentiments.

Outreach and mitigation

The Disinformation Project prioritises working with communities most impacted by false and misleading information and harmful content.

Since the outbreak of this conflict, we have been working closely with Jewish and Muslim community groups to provide risk monitoring and to support the escalation of security concerns through established protocols.