Why Does Everyone On Social Media Think Having An Opinion Means They’re An Expert?

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via Flickr Commons – Jason A. Howie

I have always been supportive of a two-state solution and hope that Benjamin Netanyahu will make strides towards an agreement with Mahmoud Abbas. In the latest conflict, Israel is the greater aggressor. Palestinians await violence with more trepidation than Israelis. But this conflict has persisted even before the failed UN Partition of 1947. Both Israel and Palestine have played roles in the conflict. No one is entirely guilty, no one is entirely innocent. What has been bred is mutual futility.

Additionally noteworthy is the Western media’s obsession with Israel. I have noticed two alarming effects of this media frenzy: millennials’ sudden interest in but lack of knowledge on Gaza and media neglect of newsworthy brutality in other countries.

I do not expect my peers to perfectly maneuver through the complicated political course that is understanding the Middle-East, nor do I claim to. But the public perceptions of both Jews and Palestinians that have been spread on social media sites demonstrate prejudice, ignorance, and misinformation. I do not speak for every individual my age; I am simply observing what I have noticed on social media sites that I frequent.

What irks me is not the sudden interest, but the sudden declaration of expertise. I’ve found many of my facebook friends, as well as strangers on public forums, claiming undisputedly accurate opinions on the tense conflict in Gaza without fundamental knowledge. Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, but that neither warrants making claims without facts nor making racist claims at all.

The misinformed anti-Palestine youth defends Israel’s violence by contending it should slaughter all of Palestine, unable to distinguish Palestine from Hamas. They can’t tell apart the enemy, a radical organization, and innocent people encroached by boarders in the densely populated Gaza. They have gone so far as to deem all Palestinians terrorists online. I’ve seen more discussions urging Israel to “blow them all up” than to strive towards a dual-state solution. I even read one post where an adolescent urged the United States to intervene and help Israel fight Hamas because we did not seek enough revenge after 9/11. If a sudden interest in Gaza means people my age who can’t differentiate between Hamas and Al-Qaeda will spread their misinformation on popular forums, I would rather they remain uninterested.

The anti-Israel youth I’ve seen on social media are like modern anti-Semites. They call for the destruction of Israel and label Jews genociders. To criticize Israel’s policy is a side of an argument, but to characterize what’s happening in Gaza as “genoicide” robs the word of meaning. I’ve seen comments on posts both related and unrelated to Gaza declaring Israel the new KKK.  I’ve seen reposts of conspiracy theories from crackpot websites saying Israel invaded Gaza to gain control of Palestinian gas. This is 2014. With such widespread access to reliable news sources, how can millennials ignore credible sources and support prejudices with inaccurate information?

Not only are certain millennials discussing the situation in Gaza without proper knowledge, but it is all they are discussing. The media obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has persisted for many years, but it is concerning that news outlets are ignoring terror in countries so close in proximity to the region.

Gaza has been the main story for weeks. Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine have been pushed aside.

In a recent article discussing the Islamic State’s latest target, the Yazidis, George Packer of the New Yorker noted, “there’s barely any public awareness of the unfolding disaster in northwestern Iraq… the front-page news continues to be the war in Gaza, a particular Western obsession whether one’s views are pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace, or pro-plague-on-both-houses. Nothing that either side has done in that terrible conflict comes close to the routine brutality of ISIS.”

I find it unlikely that the specific group of millennials I’ve discussed have any idea what IS is, let alone the type of violence they are going to inflict on Iraqis – Christian, Yazidi, Sunni, human beings – in the months to come. I doubt those making statuses about Israeli genocide know about the systematic war crimes in Syria under Bashar al-Assad. And I doubt those saying all Arabs are terrorists know about the violence innocent Libyans have faced during and after the reign of Muammar Gaddafi.

As a parallel to the situation in Gaza, what has been bred between the media and millennials is mutual futility. Selective exposure has to do with individuals choosing to absorb information aligned with preexisting biases; the media’s fixation on Gaza likely encourages millennials to search for information, from a credible source or not, that supports their “fact-based opinions.”

I hope for a change in my facebook newsfeed. It concerns me when an opportunity for open discussion morphs into an opportunity for spewing racism. Knowledge is both an asset and a weakness – it is how it is absorbed and distributed that makes the difference.

I also hope for change in the media. Instead of focusing solely on Gaza, pay more attention to the insurmountable brutality in countries all over the world. Perhaps if coverage was spread more proportionality – a word frequently used in discussion of Gaza – millennials would have more than one conflict to discuss, and discuss it properly. TC mark

featured image – Widjaya Ivan

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