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Move fast and break news - Digital Threat Digest

PGI’s Digital Investigations Team brings you the Digital Threat Digest, SOCMINT and OSINT insights into disinformation, influence operations, and online harms.

News 2

Responsibility for the tragedy at the al-Ahli hospital in Gaza remains unclear. Over the past day or so, mainstream news publications haveanalysed open-source data but have been unable to judge conclusively whether Palestinian militants or the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are to blame. However, examination of the blast site indicates damage is inconsistent with Israeli munitions, undermining initial claims by Palestinian authorities.

These judgements come too late. In the initial aftermath of the event, organisations such as the BBC and CNN all uncritically amplified claims that the IDF was clearly responsible for the blast. A BBC reporter stated that it was ‘difficult to see’ what else besides Israeli missiles could have caused the explosion. A judgement based on a video he then admitted was unverified.

These snap judgements represent a failure by legacy media institutions to rise above the currents of viral and partisan information circulating online around the Israel-Hamas conflict. FT journalist John Burn-Murdoch argued that this incident represents a need to better integrate OSINT knowledge into modern newsrooms. Nevertheless, this did not stop the BBC, which has its own BBC Verify team, from slipping up.

While Burn-Murdoch’s suggestions are useful, I think this incident also shows the struggle journalists face today managing velocity and veracity. The competition for attention between organisations and journalists means there is added pressure to be seen as the one ahead of events and the first to break a story, especially when narratives are developing so quickly on social media. Audiences also seek a clear-cut answer which can be hard to provide in such a noisy and heated online information environment.

Personally, I don’t entirely agree that mainstream media organisations are declining in relevance. Though we increasingly gravitate towards partisan news sources or influencers, there is still an assumption that legacy media organisations work to a higher journalistic standard, or at least are better resourced. This means their stories still carry an added level of authority and help shape “official narratives”. Legacy media organisations need to own this responsibility by resisting commercial pressures to cautiously establish the facts, even if this means they can’t provide definite answers right away.

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Our Digital Investigations Analysts combine modern exploitative technology with deep human analytical expertise that covers the social media platforms themselves and the behaviours and the intents of those who use them. Our experienced analyst team have a deep understanding of how various threat groups use social media and follow a three-pronged approach focused on content, behaviour and infrastructure to assess and substantiate threat landscapes.

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