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WhatsApp groups not so kosher as news source

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We’re all hungry for information about what’s happening in Israel. We want that information as quickly as possible, and with increasing scepticism of mainstream media, many are turning to WhatsApp groups.

You wouldn’t take military advice from an armchair general, so why take your news from people cosplaying at being journalists? Reporting during wartime is a skill and comes with a unique set of challenges. We’re aware that wars aren’t just fought on the battlefield or in international institutions like the United Nations or International Court of Justice, but in the media. The media war is a critical arena because what’s reported in the media and how it’s reported affects public opinion. This has an effect of policy makers, and misreporting facts has led to increased attacks on Jewish individuals and installations since the start of Israel’s war with Hamas following the 7 October atrocities. The most famous example of this was the Al-Ahli Hospital incident of 17 October.

WhatsApp groups add a very complicated and sometimes dangerous layer of misreporting.

There are several popular WhatsApp groups that many subscribe to in the hope they are receiving news that’s credible and timely. The problem is, how credible are these groups? As manipulative as our enemy is, we also have dubious characters pushing agendas.

The Israel Police has warned the public to be careful of information that they consume, especially during the month of Ramadan. Investigation into who is administrating the groups reveals that most of these groups are funded or sponsored. For many, the donors determine the agenda. This is evident in the reporting.

How does one consume news more responsibly?

Consider the source. Has the official source such as publication, journalist, or institution been referenced or credited? WhatsApp groups often pass news off that has been greatly exaggerated or inflated. This isn’t credible;

What kind of language is used? A credible journalist will report factually without the need for hyperbole. If the reporting is incorrect, do they correct it?

What’s the main type of messaging? Is the report repeating a specific kind of message that seems to promote an agenda. Is there an inherent lack of balance by focusing on one angle?

Are you able to see the original reporting? Is this reported across reputable sources with the relevant accreditation?

Are you being baited with clickbait reporting – this is a clear red flag, especially in a wartime;

Beware of images and footage that hasn’t been corroborated, and sources of origin not given;

Apply critical thinking before believing – ask yourself would this really happen, could it influence the safety of our soldiers, is it creating panic? We need to take a beat before just believing; and

Have you been added to a group with your permission, and are members vetted?

At this critical time, when truth becomes a casualty of war and the narrative battlefield gets progressively trickier, it’s vitally important to make sure that you’re consuming credible news. It may be more time consuming, but peace of mind and less anxiety is worth it.

  • Rolene Marks is a Middle East commentator often heard on radio and TV, and is the co-founder of Lay of the Land and the SA-Israel Policy Forum.

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