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Rise of the war crime influencers

How IDF soldiers are implicating themselves for clout and likes in the age of conflict TikTok

Illustration by @npl_illustration

Soldiers taking ‘war trophies’ is, sadly, an act as old as war itself. Helmets, guns, knives, flags and jewellery snatched from the enemy are common examples, alongside more sinister instances. But the context of acquiring trophies remains the same: they are taken as a macabre symbol of victory or domination in war.

Though physical pillaging has not gone anywhere, modern warfare and technology has opened up a whole new space for soldiers to collect trophies in: the online sphere. And it is a trend which exemplifies our deranged global order, particularly apparent in Gaza.

Broadcasting the hate

The spheres of social media and war have never been so intertwined as now. The availability of information – especially photos and videos – from conflict sites is phenomenal. As a result, it is easier to find graphic and disturbing images of war on your phone than ever before. Often, you don’t even have to be looking for it.

Nowhere is this more readily apparent than in Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza. 


The conflict is both censored, due to Israel targeting or indiscriminately killing Palestinian journalists whilst not allowing foreign reporters inside, and well-documented, often by the perpetrators of violence themselves. Some Israelis have adopted a cavalier attitude to admitting or displaying their crimes to the wider public.

Israeli officials’ statements comparing Palestinians to human animals, promising to “erase the Gaza Strip from the face of the Earth” and turn it into a “slaughterhouse” were used as evidence in the UN world court South African case that Israel is committing genocide. The arrogance and brazenness of making such statements acts as a clear-cut signal of intent.

These beliefs did not originate in a vacuum, but have culminated from decades of Israeli repression, apartheid and violence against the Palestinian people. The language used is an accurate summary of the unjustifiably cruel and brutal acts of the Israeli state, intensified in the last six months.

The attitude towards Palestinians is also readily apparent in those physically carrying out the atrocities in Gaza. Numerous IDF soldiers have been acting as content creators, cheering on their murders and offences, mocking Palestinians, and broadcasting the evidence themselves via social media. These are the ‘war crime influencers, as described by leftist YouTuber Yugopnik, a new section of content creators who take full ownership, and indeed are proud, of their vicious acts of war. 

Genocide TikTok: a new phenomenon?

These war crime influencers use internet culture and pre-existing social media trends to joke and devalue the plight of the Palestinians, for instance boasting about the poor conditions of their homes which the IDF has bombed to pieces.

Examples of this phenomenon range from a TikTok of IDF soldiers pretending to be real estate agents in bombed-out Gaza and having fun riding stolen bikes in the ruins they created, to DJing live and partying in the occupied area and, bizarrely, dressing up like a dinosaur to launch bombs.

There are also numerous videos of soldiers looting Palestinian civilians’ possessions, which is considered a war crime under International law. Often, Palestinians forced to flee their homes have later had to witness their possessions being shown off by Israeli soldiers on TikTok. 

There are also countless incidents of soldiers disgustingly posing with Palestinian women’s lingerie. There is no shortage of the racist, classist and misogynist implications of these despicable acts, but filming and boosting them for attention – likes and internet points – also adds a sinister element of exhibitionism to the crimes.

From this, Facebook, X, Instagram and TikTok have become vehicles not only for vanity, but a peculiar brand of joyous depravity in war. This has been spawned from the normalisation of self-promotion on social media, and phone addiction, colliding with the horrors of Israel’s unabated mass carnage.

This creeping trend contrasts heavily to the status quo of online sharing from another era. As Yugopnik touches on, the disturbing videos of gore and violence that emerged from the depths of early internet sharing sites like LiveLeak were usually uploaded anonymously by third parties, presumably after being ‘discovered’ as lost footage. The videos – often snuff films or extreme crime – were meant to be shameful and repellent. Participants likely knew this and didn’t want the evidence to get out, perhaps keeping the footage as a sick trophy of sorts before it was stolen, found or leaked to the public.

Shockingly, those sharing similarly extreme content today are increasingly happy to use their own face and name. They want to show off their deeds of war and bloodshed. They are implicating themselves. A South African IDF soldier posted a video to his own public Instagram making light of the bombings in Khan Younis. IDF soldiers filmed themselves, faces on full display, gleefully rifling through the belongings of a Palestinian couple and trying things on. 

An Israeli video trend saw TikTok and Instagram users dress up in an unflattering and racist portrayal of Palestinians to dance, and make fun of their lack of water and electricity after Israel turned their access off.

What’s perhaps sadder than grown adults taking part in such demented ridicule is that many of the videos featured young children, showing the cycle of hate and racial subjugation is all but guaranteed in a society which reinforces a supremacist ideology. There’s no shame, no attempt to hide the contempt and enjoyment of the wanton destruction.

The increasing power of social media, with its emphasis on the importance of having a personal brand to create content, has unleashed a new way for militants to collect cyber war trophies and boost their digital ego in the process.

A sick society

The war crime influencers in the IDF are not an aberration but a consequence of a deeply unjust and colonial society. The repellent mindset is not new, it’s just that now it has the ability to newly express itself by posting online en masse.

This is exemplified by the existence of an IDF-run telegram channel called “72 Virgins – Uncensored” which shares extreme content for an Israeli audience, including snuff films of dead Palestinians, complete with mocking descriptions and cute emoji reactions to the most sickening images imaginable. 

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One cannot read the text from this group without concluding it showcases a deeply disturbed society. Only if you thought a particular race of people were not human could you commit such acts, and figuratively bathe in the ritual of murdering and humiliating them. 

The soldiers and participants in this group even mocked the deaths of the World Central Kitchen staff who were assassinated by the IDF in April of this year, making derogatory jokes about their Polish and Australian origins. 

IDF soldiers documenting their own war crimes is a product of the settler-colonial mindset, and decades of impunity for acts of horrific violence. The largest backers of the Israeli war machine – the US, UK and Europe – have not done a thing to stop the atrocities that have occurred against the Palestinians in the last six months. 

On the contrary, they continue to arm and support the genocide. So why wouldn’t Israel think it is untouchable? The very bravado demonstrated by those bragging about their military domination in Gaza is reflective of a sick society, which has filtered hate top-down from the highest authorities in Israel.

It is a cycle. The soldiers and politicians know they are unlikely to face serious repercussions for despicable acts, so they get more brash and barefaced in their approach.

Case in point, this insight from a +972 article on Israeli soldiers looting Gaza:

Another soldier, who served in northern and central Gaza, testified that soldiers “took rugs, blankets, [and] kitchen utensils,” and explained that there was no briefing on the matter from the army either before entering or while in the field. “There was zero talk about it from the commanders,” he said. “Everyone knows that people are taking things. It’s considered funny — people say: ‘Send me to The Hague.’ It doesn’t happen in secret. The commanders saw, everyone knows, and no one seems to care.”

The destructive nature has always been there, but the ubiquity of social media has only accelerated this mask-off moment.

The future of warfare

Importantly, this also reveals that the Israeli high command can’t PR their way out of the changing perception that their army is not as moral as they always claim. Their onslaught in Gaza has been particularly ruthless and continues to dominate the news cycle. Even if mainstream publications often treat Israel with kid gloves, Israel’s own soldiers are more than willing to out themselves as vindictive and destructive to the wider public, in an age where sharing is instant and bypasses traditional media. 

In this sense, the war crime influencers are digging their own hole. Though they will undoubtedly ride the adrenaline high of their war crime hijinks – the shares and short-term fame – it will damn them and their whole project in the long run.

The broadcasting of abhorrent violence against Palestinians is not new, but the scale and audacity of it, allegedly independent of top IDF leadership, shows we have entered a whole new era of war crimes documentation.

However, we are yet to see if this will change how future conflicts play out. It is untested territory – due to the universality of social media, there is scope for armies to begin putting tighter restrictions on soldiers posting footage from their operations. All this readily available information could plausibly be used as evidence in future war crime trials. 

Militaries, as arms of the establishment, have huge PR machines. As soldiers implicating themselves on video for clout becomes more commonplace, top command are likely to try to crack down on this as much as possible. 

Ironically, the content is useful in exposing the cruelty of an otherwise PR-managed war to the international community. Though it is bleak to see, it is important to know about this sick trend – not to give the perpetrators fuel but to learn how a genocide happens. It is not something only gleaned in retrospect, after the fact. It is in front of us, and being co-signed and broadcast by the killers.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed to the point of apathy when we are bombarded with so many images that it numbs us. But this cannot become normalised. Anyone who uses social media trends to taunt the Palestinians as they are being slaughtered can be deemed a war crime influencer, as they are building their own brand on crimes against humanity and the misery of others.

History will damn their actions, but not before we see copycat videos and shorts become increasingly common in war zones, not only as propaganda and morale boosts for invading armies but also as unsettling vanity projects.

These online personalities are horrific, but they bring the reality of this war and the extent of Israel’s warped tendencies to life. Truly, they reveal the attitude of domination and racism needed to colonise a people’s land, in a more direct way than conventional platforms. The Israeli state can try to cover its crimes in ‘respectability’ all it wants, but it is hard to unbottle this genie of hatred in the unchecked land of social media.

As Yugopnik puts it, “If evil wants to unmask itself, let it. So the whole world can see.”

What can you do?

  • Watch The Era of War Crime Influencers by Yugopnik, a part-inspiration for this article
  • Watch Novara Live segment Israeli Troops Film Themselves Trashing Palestinian Homes
  • Read shado article How the IDF is turning TikTok into a propaganda tool
  • Read VICE article Pro-Palestinian TikTok Creators Aren’t Backing Down
  • Read +972 article ‘Lavender’: The AI machine directing Israel’s bombing spree in Gaza
  • Sign the Palestine Solidarity Campaign petition calling on the UK government to stop arming Israel
  • Participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement
  • Donate to Medical Aid for Palestine or read shado’s resources on Palestine on its front page
Illustration by @npl_illustration who says: “I took inspiration from the the section in the article describing the different types of social media content IDF soldiers were putting out. The central image shows a soldier mixing sounds on a DJ deck, on the right of this is a soldier riding a stolen bike in the rubble, on the left there is a dinosaur launching bombs into the tank on his left. The figures are surrounded by likes and comments, in keeping with the interface of these apps.”
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