Concerns have been raised over young people being exposed to a potential deluge of misinformation surrounding the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Intense violence continues following militant group Hamas’ attack over the weekend, causing a surge in purported news and images being shared widely on social media.

While many accounts are doing vital work in informing an international audience of the tragedy and terror unfolding on both sides of a brutal war, the murky waters of online spaces can make it difficult for people to discern fact from fiction.

Whether it be X - formerly known as Twitter – Facebook, Instagram or TikTok, millions of posts have been shared in the days following Hamas’ shock attack.

Research shows that young people in Scotland consume most of their news on these platforms, meaning they could be more exposed to mistruths and distortion on a nuanced conflict.

Dr Catherine Happer, head of the Glasgow University Media Group, said: “It is empirically correct that young people access their news via an alert, friend post or notification from a preferred platform, and increasingly do not begin their news journey with news outlets’ own websites.

“They are a generation that is very conscious of media bias. This doesn’t necessarily mean that young people never hear the narratives from BBC News but these will take their place amidst a range of different information sources and not be given privileged status.

“Obviously this has implications for the accuracy and authenticity of the information that is received, but there is a much more nuanced argument here about the way in which young people might actively seek out alternatives to historic mainstream media coverage on issues such as the Israel Palestine conflict, which again evidence shows has tended to follow Westernised political rhetoric and to marginalise Palestinian voices.”

In 2021, Instagram announced it had altered its algorithm following accusations of suppressing Palestinian voices in the way its content was shared.

The platform had prioritised original posts over ones that had been reshared by others, most commonly on their ‘stories’, which appear for a 24-hour period. This meant that the large number of posts being passed around about the conflict were appearing less frequently on people’s pages than new, unrelated content.

Before and since this adjustment, it has not been uncommon to see young people’s stories flooded with posts during events of conflict or social injustice. From the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder to the tremors left by #MeToo movement, social media is now the public forum on which our youth can share their stance and their solidarity.

Despite raising awareness of current affairs that might escape the traditional news-adverse youth, like any form of activism, this online advocacy can be laced with bias. Particularly on such fraught issues as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, concise infographics created to be social media successes may prove reductive.

Dr Happer said: “On Instagram infographics specifically, they are largely a tool for marketing, there to sell things and increase user engagement and to be posted and shared in part for social media users to say something to the world about themselves.

“There remains the issue with the impossibility of reflecting the huge complexity of the conflict as infographics tend to condense and simplify, as they are short and bold in their claims.

Instagram has committed “reducing the spread of false information”, saying that they use both technology and its online community to identify fake posts, as well as third party fact checkers.

Across social media platforms, dangerous misinformation ranged from a false announcement of significant financial aid to Israel by President Biden, to doctored videos of the historic Saint Porphyrius Church in Gaza being bombed by Israel.

Distortion or misrepresentation of images is particularly worrying, given how much of this content is consumed by young people.

Once famed for dances and frivolity, TikTok has now evolved into a source of news for many. According to Ofcom research this year, 11% of Scottish adults used the Chinese-owned platform to keep in touch with daily events. The figure represents a 5% increase on 2022’s findings, the highest increase of any news source in the country’s 20 most used.

In its misinformation policy, TikTok states: “In a global community, it is natural for people to have different opinions, but we seek to operate on a shared set of facts and reality. We do not allow inaccurate, misleading, or false content that may cause significant harm to individuals or society, regardless of intent.”

However, the brevity of TikTok’s posts prompts cause for concern in how representative and detailed the information presented to largely younger audiences truly is, according to Dr Happer.

She added: “Reality can be distorted in minutes, and users are very used to a high level of creativity. Not only that but the videos on TikTok are very short, usually a minute or less, and that length is much more suited to communicating a sentiment or impression rather than giving an overview of a hugely complex political and historical conflict such as that of Israel-Palestine.

“Across these new forms of political communication, there will be content of great value giving insight into what is going on and amplifying voices and perspectives that don’t usually get heard, but for young people trying to piece together a comprehensive understanding of events, it is incredibly difficult.”

Seán McGill is a freelance journalist