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"Israel-Hamas war sparks debate among American youth on social media"

"Israel-Hamas war sparks debate among American youth on social media"

Social media posts from the battlefields, both on the ground and ideologically, of the Israel-Hamas war have polarized young people in the United States, in some cases causing threats or violence. But as VOA correspondent Anthony LaBruto reports, some groups see the growing tension as a need and opportunity for dialogue.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began, social media has been reflecting the latest developments and thoughts on the conflict. But in the United States, all that raw information delivered without context can cause confusion and misconceptions, especially among young people. Brandon Leach is an alumnus of 'American University' and vice president of the American Jewish Committee branch for this university.

"Everyone is faced with a lot of anti-Semitic or pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli posts online. Instagram is full of them and it's mentally exhausting. I would also say that it is a difficult situation for young people," he says.

At Washington universities, students unite with those who share their views, whether pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. Both Jews and Palestinians have come out in protests to express their indignation, says Taher Herzallah, director of communications for the American Muslims for Palestine organization.

"As you can see, thousands of members of our Palestinian-American community have come forward to express their anger," he says.

Since Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, many social media posts and mainstream media reports have focused on Israel's siege of Gaza, which the Hamas-run Health Ministry figures has causing the death of over 14,000 people.

Such a focus on the situation in Gaza may explain TikTok's data, according to which as of November 13 there were 2.9 million more videos on the platform with the hashtag "#FreePalestine" than those with "#StandwithIsrael".

But TikTok itself warns that simple comparisons cannot be made without proper context. However, according to other studies, support for the Palestinians among young people had increased since before October 7.

TikTok cites Pew Research Center data collected between 2006 and 2016 showing that older generations, who are less likely to be present on the platform, were more likely to support Israel than younger generations.

Some young people see an opportunity for communication in this online polarization. Max Katz and Farid Abdibi created the Left-Middle-Right digital media organization at George Washington University to help George Washington University students and other young people express their opinions.

"I'm sure there are radicalized people on both sides, but the majority on each side engage in accordance with their identity and background. And if both sides sit down at a table, say 'GW [George Washington University] for Israel' and 'Students for Justice in Palestine', and talk, they'll realize they don't hate each other, they don't have problems with each other's beliefs. There is simply a clash of their identities in certain geopolitical circumstances", says Farid Abdidi.

Such communications could provide a virtual truce of sorts between groups radicalized by the Internet, even as current tensions between Israel and Hamas remain high./VOA

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