Hamas, a militant organization, has declared its intention to livestream the executions of Israeli hostages over the internet. Recent history shows that technology companies face significant challenges in preventing such broadcasts.
Incidents like live-streamed murders in Buffalo and Christchurch, New Zealand, continue to exist on the internet, garnering millions of views even long after the crimes occurred. Tech companies’ efforts to curb access to violent videos are hindered by the open nature of the internet, making it easy to watch, save, and share videos at a rapid pace. Additionally, the strategies of those committing these acts have evolved, using a network of online services to ensure their videos remain accessible.
A spokesperson for Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, announced through an audio message on their Telegram account that they would execute hostages one by one each time an Israeli strike hits a home in Gaza, a densely populated area controlled by Hamas with over 2 million Palestinian residents.
The spokesperson did not specify where or when these executions would be broadcast. It is believed that Hamas has abducted more than 100 individuals, predominantly civilians, during their recent attack on southern Israel. Some have already been killed, as confirmed by video evidence reviewed by The Washington Post.
This threat is reminiscent of the videos released nearly a decade ago by the Islamic State, which aimed to spread fear and gain attention by showing the beheadings of journalists, aid workers, and other civilian captives. However, those videos were prerecorded and edited. Hamas’ pledge to record and broadcast future executions is a new tactic designed to incite fear over the impending violence.
Graham Brookie, a senior director at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, stated that “Hamas’ entire strategy is to inflict as much damage as possible and draw attention to that damage to incite fear among the broader public.” This real-time recording of glossy propaganda content is a significant departure from their previous methods.
Hamas has already used Telegram, an unmoderated messaging platform with over 800 million users, to share gruesome videos of kidnappings and murders during their recent attack. Some of these videos featured professional touches, such as animated titles and action-movie-style soundtracks, indicating a pre-planned process for recording, editing, and publishing. These edited videos appeared online within hours of the attacks.
Josh Lipowsky, a senior research analyst at the Counter Extremism Project, stated that Hamas is well-prepared and has established professional systems to disseminate their message.
Hamas is expected to publish execution videos on Telegram, which may be reposted to mainstream platforms like X (formerly Twitter), potentially gaining millions of views. Alternatively, the group could choose to live-stream the executions on social media or other websites using temporary accounts, making it difficult to remove the content and ensuring its persistent availability on the web.
Telegram, known for tolerating violent content in the name of free expression, has not responded to requests for comment. Other lesser-known websites specialize in sharing extreme videos and do not comply with removal requests.
Unlike mainstream social networks, which invest in content moderation systems, live streams or shared videos are not proactively monitored, allowing violent content to circumvent the rules. After a racist gunman live-streamed a deadly attack in a Buffalo grocery store, the video was removed from Twitch within two minutes, but it had already been reposted on other platforms, including Facebook, where it garnered millions of views.
Hamas’ videos have displayed exceptionally graphic content, partly due to the group’s planning and technological capabilities. In some videos, militants wear GoPro cameras, providing a first-person perspective.
The use of first-person video has become more prevalent in modern warfare, with Ukraine and the White Helmets in Syria employing such footage to document conflicts.
Hamas’ warning of execution broadcasts suggests a shift toward a more accelerated form of terror propaganda, aiming to demoralize and break the spirits of Israelis and the global Jewish community.