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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Palestinian journalists are reporting for an indifferent world

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Two UNC students wrap a Palestinian flag around themselves at a march for Palestine outside of Wilson Library on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.

"Please don't scroll if you care about Palestine."

My thumb freezes over the TikTok screen, allowing for the speaker to continue. The user details the story of a family caught in the crosshairs of a bloody onslaught. I see these videos often. 

Some of these videos speak of families divided, unable to help one another. They speak of houses and workplaces reduced to rubble. They speak of fathers, mothers, children, grandparents and siblings unable to get medical support because the few surviving hospitals do not have the facilities or resources to provide it. They speak of an uncelebrated Ramadan because they are too busy fighting to survive.

They promote a GoFundMe, frequently provided by family members' personal accounts, asking viewers to donate whatever they can, saying the smallest contribution makes a significant difference.

These people posting videos are sometimes Palestinian civilians using personal social media accounts, or sometimes close friends and relatives hoping to help their families out of devastation. Other accounts are dedicated to amplifying Palestinian stories and spreading awareness.

Through the use of donated e-SIM cards, many Palestinians reach out for help through social media. Similar to many humanitarian crises, the victims are their own advocates.

"Hey, everyone. This is Bisan from Gaza, and we're still alive."

Bisan Owda, a filmmaker, is one of many Palestinian journalists currently covering the genocide on the ground. Through Instagram and TikTok, she shows the impact of the Israel Defense Forces' merciless actions in Gaza, risking her life and limb to share the voices and plights of those around her.

Not only does Owda document horrific events as they occur, but she records the moments in between: the small things that we consider a given, but they now regard as a luxury. She works tirelessly not to just share the stories of those who lost what they hold dear and precious, but to show exactly who this is happening to. People who had lived lives like ours but had that ripped away from them. Who they are and what they are like beyond their suffering.

She lost her life's work, her equipment and workspace in bombings. In her videos, you can see and hear how tired and fed up she is by the complacent world around her, yet she and countless others continue to record, speak and write because no one else will do it for them.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 95 journalists and media workers have died since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began, marking one of the deadliest periods for journalists since CPJ began gathering data in 1992.

This responsibility is not solely carried by journalists, as many Palestinians civilians also began documenting their own experiences too. They highlight their family's lives under bombardment, how they have been living and surviving and telling their own stories.

Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that could potentially result in a nationwide ban of TikTok, cutting off one key platform that families and journalists use to advocate for themselves and raise funds to seek refuge outside of Gaza.

Though the ban resulted from national security concerns regarding the parent company of TikTok, there is considerable backlash from critics accusing the app of having an anti-Israel bias.

TikTok denied this, stating in a blog post that commentators falsely insinuated TikTok was pushing pro-Palestine content due to the discrepancy in hashtag data. The app was also accused of shadow-banning pro-Palestine content with some creators' videos being taken down for violating community guidelines. Creators frequently have to use "algospeak" to bypass the stringent guidelines.

According to the Pew Research Center, one-third of U.S. adults under the age of 30 regularly get their news from TikTok. Combining both TikTok and Douyin,the Chinese equivalent, there are a combined 2.5 billion daily active users worldwide, compared to Instagram's 500 million.

Many journalists utilize both platforms, but TikTok has a wider scope, making it effective in delivering grassroots news and information, especially during extreme violence.

As foreign journalists have been unable to assist in coverage on the ground in Gaza, our first hand accounts come from Palestinian journalists. The TikTok ban threatens to cut many U.S. residents off from their reporting.

These journalists' videos are the only thing giving us a fraction of the picture of Palestinians' reality on a daily basis. These journalists foster a direct connection by forcing us to confront the faces and names of countless innocents who have lost someone or a part of themselves throughout this genocide. The least we can do is continue to watch and share their stories.

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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