The conflict between Israel and Hamas is increasingly being fought on a global scale through online channels.
Countries like Iran, Russia, and to a lesser extent, China, are utilizing state media and major social networking platforms to support Hamas, undermine Israel, and criticize the United States.
Even Iran’s allies in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, as well as extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, have joined the online battle, despite previous conflicts with Hamas.
Government officials and independent researchers note that the influx of online propaganda and disinformation is unprecedented, reflecting the geopolitical divisions of the world.
Rafi Mendelsohn, Vice President at Tel Aviv-based social media intelligence company Cyabra, states that millions, or even hundreds of millions of people, are witnessing the impact of this online propaganda, which is proving to be as effective as any ground tactic in influencing the war. Since Hamas began its attack on Israel on October 7, Cyabra has identified at least 40,000 fake accounts or bots online.
The content being spread is emotional, biased, and often false, and it has incited anger and violence beyond Gaza, raising concerns of a broader conflict. Iran, despite denying involvement in Hamas’ attack, has threatened retaliation on “multiple fronts” if Israeli forces continue their actions.
Moustafa Ayad, Executive Director for Africa, the Middle East, and Asia at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, describes the situation as an involvement of “everyone.” The non-profit research organization in London has recently detailed influence campaigns by Iran, Russia, and China.
While the campaigns are not explicitly coordinated, there is a shared theme among Iran, Russia, and China in supporting Hamas over Israel. Their information campaigns aim to not only provide moral support but also amplify each other’s messages and expand their global reach on various platforms and languages.
For instance, the Spanish arm of Russian television network RT reposted a statement by the Iranian president, labeling the explosion at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital as an Israeli war crime, despite different assessments by Western intelligence agencies and independent analysts. Similar exaggerated posts have gained significant views.
James P. Rubin, head of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, describes the situation as an undeclared information war with authoritarian countries.
Hamas has employed a comprehensive and sophisticated media strategy from the early stages of the conflict, learning from groups like the Islamic State. By using bot accounts originating from countries like Pakistan, they have circumvented bans on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. One notable account, @RebelTaha, which displayed characteristics of an inauthentic account on Twitter, posted extensively during the first two days of the conflict, shifting from content about cricket to propagating claims of a double standard in portraying Palestinian resistance as terrorism while Ukraine’s fight against Russia is framed as self-defense.
Experts tracking disinformation and extremism have been surprised by the rapid and widespread dissemination of Hamas’ message online. This success can be attributed to the emotional nature of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the graphic images of violence captured by Hamas fighters, and the utilization of networks of bots and official accounts from governments and state media of Iran, Russia, and China, all amplified by social media platforms.