PARIS: A grandmother’s death live streamed, fighters announcing to Israelis their relatives have been killed or humiliating hostage videos show Hamas’s determination to use social media propaganda alongside violence, experts say.
Mor Bayder’s phone didn’t buzz on Saturday morning - her grandmother’s routine call to ask if she was awake.
Instead, she discovered her grandmother’s “brutal murder” during the Hamas attack on a village bordering the Gaza Strip posted on Facebook, Bayder wrote on the social network.
“A terrorist broke into her home, murdered her, took her phone, photographed the horror and posted it on her Facebook wall. That’s how we found out,” she added.
Speaking to Israeli TV channel Canal 13, a tearful Bayder said the killer had called her aunt to force her to view the images of her grandmother “lying in a pool of blood” in the kibbutz of Nir Oz, just two kilometres from Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Several Israelis from the area have been reported missing.
‘Unprecedented at this scale’
Violence is the recurring theme in many other photos and videos spread online by Hamas or its supporters since Saturday.
“This is on purpose: The goal is to trigger a sense of helplessness, paralysis, and humiliation,” said Michael Horowitz, a security analyst at consultancy Le Beck International.
Even the most unbearable images have gone viral, including footage of a woman’s partially naked body in the bed of a pick-up truck cheered by armed men.
Her mother has identified her as Shani Louk, a German-Israeli in her twenties who was at a desert rave which turned into a bloodbath early Saturday.
Another widely-shared video shows a family huddled together on the ground.
A boy aged just six or seven asks his mother if his slain sister will come back, and she is forced to answer “no” in a sob - before throwing herself across her son to protect him as the legs of the likely kidnapper approach in front of the lens.
Although such propaganda is not a new addition to Hamas’s arsenal, “Today we see much more sophisticated methods of manipulation and propaganda from Hamas,” said Ruslan Trad, resident fellow for security research at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
By the fourth day of the vast Hamas surprise attack, compared by Israel to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians had been killed.
‘Evidence of war crime’
Hamas narratives have enjoyed amplification online, as they are “systematically spread by Iranian and Russian trolls, and boosted by state media,” said David Colon, a professor at the Sciences Po university in Paris.
Video platform TikTok “is letting huge amounts of shocking content slide”.
Meanwhile the takeover of X (formerly Twitter) by Elon Musk has left moderation teams “stripped to the bone, with unbearable videos that would once have been deleted immediately now staying on line for hours,” Colon added.
By posting videos, Hamas is also providing the clearest evidence that can be traced back to the group in the short as well as long term.
“Hamas and other Palestinian media associated with it or not, are providing evidence of war crime, which will have an impact,” Horowitz said.
The militant group is already classed as a terror organisation by the US and the European Union following its suicide bombing campaigns in the 1990s and 2000s.
But Trad said the prospect of eventual international legal consequences would no be weighing heavily with the Palestinian militants.
“Hamas and their allies have no worries about being accused of committing war crimes and massacres; moreover, they do not mind being accused as they see the world’s institutions as useless and Western-backed,” he said.