How often do you log onto any given social media platform and see a stream of posts defending Israel's right to self-determination? Or frightening stories about anti-Israel activity on college campuses? Or thought leaders arguing about Israel's politics?
We know that we certainly do.
But have you ever talked to your friends and family who aren't Jewish or engaged in Israeli advocacy and asked their thoughts on the same issues, only to find they have no idea what you are talking about?
At a time when it feels like Israel is constantly under attack online, it's understandable why those who support Israel become defensive.
But who are we really speaking to when we do this?
It's time to acknowledge a hard truth. Many of us live in a social media echo chamber. While Israel's supporters like and share pro-Israel content or respond to anti-Israel rhetoric, the people we need to reach the most—those who don't have a strong connection to Israel or don't know much about it—are not seeing anything about Israel at all.
You may be asking yourself – how can this be true? I see all of this – why don't my kids, neighbors and colleagues see the same updates?
The answer, in a word, is algorithms.
Social media algorithms are data-informed filters that push content to users based on relevancy. In essence, computers measure your reactions to content and deliver more similar content to you. Based on your behavioral patterns, the algorithm feeds you more of what it thinks you want.
A study from PEW Research found that 70% of U.S. social media users actively never or rarely share political posts. If a user's behavior is to ignore political content, then, in effect, they won't see that type of information on their feed.
This means that if Israel is only discussed through the lens of politics, then we can assume the vast majority of Americans online who have no vested interest in this subject will not see content about Israel. The algorithms will deliver these posts to users who react to them—Israel's greatest supporters and detractors.
Like many of you, we are concerned about Israel's image on social media. When nearly 9 out of 10 Gen Z's spend more than an hour on social media each day, and yet report not seeing content about Israel over an entire year, it's clear that we need a new approach.
So how do we break from the echo chamber? How do we deliver more Israel-related content to more people, especially those who don't typically see it?
Our two organizations saw this gap in solutions and took the initiative to explore how to bring Israel to new audiences, especially among Gen Z, using social media. Each conducted a study that garnered new, complementary insights that identify easy opportunities to get in front of and engage them—and the results are encouraging.
TalkIsrael surveyed 500 American teens aged 16-24, and most haven't seen any content related to Israel on social media in the past 12 months. Those who were exposed reported that it was mostly negative, and when asked about terms most associated with Israel, "war" and "conflict" were the top choices among teens. Surprisingly, however, most of the surveyed were interested in seeing and learning more about Israel, its culture and the day-to-day life of young Israelis.
Most people surveyed indicated that they are interested in posts that have entertainment value (music, comedy, and food) and are relevant to their personal interests. This trend was consistent across the political spectrum. Conservative, liberal or independent—and a large share define themselves as independent— want to be entertained. They want to laugh or explore a new culture through cuisine, not politics.
ISRAEL21c gathered data through a different approach. Harnessing the perspective of its college-age Digital Ambassadors, these students created original pieces of Instagram content they thought would be relevant to their peers and measured the responses. In total, 381 people ages 18-25 completed the survey; 52% identified as "not Jewish," with an even distribution of familiarity with Israel ranging from very familiar to not at all familiar.
Neither their level of familiarity with Israel nor their religion made a difference in the quantitative data. Of all the respondents, 90% reported that they gained greater insight into Israeli society, and 66% said they felt more positively about Israel.
Both surveys make clear that it's possible to win the hearts and minds of younger generations through relevant and appealing content. However, to do so, we must showcase Israel's authentic voices.
Our organizations have joined to do just that and fill the void of positive, apolitical and authentic English-language content online. We are investing in aspiring creators, letting them lead with what they find interesting, while we coach them on how to effectively bring Israel into the picture. Blending their broad appeal with their personal affinity for Israel will connect with audiences who would otherwise never see these types of messages.
If we want to expand people's knowledge of Israel, we must garner their interest by aligning with what they find valuable. This positive exposure will capture their attention, drive engagement and tell the algorithm, "Give me more!"
Israel undeniably stands for more than politics. If we celebrate that truth, then collectively, we can break from our echo chambers and start having real, meaningful conversations.
Jason Harris is the Executive Director of ISRAEL21c, a nonprofit media organization educating audiences on the positive impact Israelis have on our world.
Elena Yacov is the Executive Director of the TalkIsrael Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to positively change the conversation about Israel among American teens through social media.
This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world. Read the previous article by Angel Mas.