20th May 2024

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Technology and Computer

Blinken Blames Social Media For Israel’s Lost Narrative on War in Gaza

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said social media dominated the narrative around Israel’s war in Gaza on Friday, sitting for an interview with Senator Mitt Romney at the McCain Institute’s 2024 Sedona Forum. Blinken’s statement on social media, which did not reference TikTok by name, was in response to Romney asking him: “Why has the PR been so awful?” and “Why has Hamas disappeared in terms of public perception?”

“The way this has played out on social media has dominated the narrative,” said Blinken in a meandering response to Romney’s question. “You have a social media ecosystem – environment – in which context, history, facts get lost and the emotion – the impact – of images dominates. We can’t discount that, but I think it also has a very, very, very challenging effect on the narrative.”

Secretary Blinken participates in a keynote conversation at the McCain Institute

Blinken lamented that the information environment has been the single biggest change in the 30 years he’s been in Washington. The Secretary of State described how people used to read one of three newspapers or watch one of a few nationally broadcasted evening news channels. Now, as Blinken describes, “we’re on an intravenous feed of information with new impulses, inputs every millisecond.”

Romney immediately responded by shedding light on Congress’ overwhelming support for the potential shutdown of TikTok. The U.S. Senator noted that TikTok posts mention Palestinians significantly more than other social media apps.

“Some wonder why there was such overwhelming support for us to shut down, potentially, TikTok or other entities of that nature. If you look at the postings on TikTok and the number of mentions of Palestinians relative to other social media sites, it’s overwhelmingly so among TikTok broadcasts,” Romney said. “I know that’s of real interest and the President will get the chance to make action in that regard.”

Secretary Blinken’s office did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

“Many members of Congress, including Sen. Romney, have called for a ban of TikTok for years because the app allows a foreign adversary – the CCP – to access huge amounts of Americans’ personal data and to manipulate algorithms to sow discord, spread disinformation, and conduct foreign influence campaigns,” said a Romney spokesperson in an email to Gizmodo. “That concern was the basis of the Senator’s remarks.”

The brief exchange reveals how top Congressional and White House officials view social media’s critical role in U.S. foreign policy. Blinken did not mention TikTok by name, though that is the only app in America that’s been deemed a threat to national security. Romney was more candid. He described a seldom-discussed reason for banning TikTok that has nothing to do with data privacy and everything to do with narrative control.

The technology world has found itself squarely at the center of Israel’s war in Gaza. Israel is reportedly using an AI system called Lavender to systematically attack people in Gaza. Google fired roughly 50 employees who protested the company’s ties to Israel. Meanwhile, Israel’s narrative on the war seems to be threatened by social media platforms.

Now that the TikTok ban is in full effect, the clock is ticking for Bytedance to file a lawsuit, sell the app, or shut down TikTok US. Many expect Bytedance to file a lawsuit in the coming weeks, challenging the constitutionality of the first United States law that could ban a social media app.

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