December 30, 2023 - 8:00am

A Daily Mail poll this week claimed that “one in five” American members of Generation Z has a positive view of Osama bin Laden. It’s just one of many sensational articles published in the wake of the 7 October attacks that suggest Zoomers are normalising — or even celebrating — terrorism.

Opinions about the conflict in Israel are changing, and it’s certainly true that college campuses have a fraught relationship with the topic, particularly when it comes to the issue of free speech. Yet claims that terrorism is trending aren’t entirely substantiated, and the salient distinction between sympathy for Palestinians and explicit support of Hamas is being ignored. 

Social media can distort the mood, and an increase in Palestinian flag emojis in usernames or Instagram infographics can make more sensationalist claims feel true. But available information shows that most young Americans condemn terrorist organisations such as Hamas, despite what the headlines suggest. One Harvard/Harris poll found that college-aged individuals generally view the 7 October attack as unjustified (63%) and terrorist in nature (52%), consider Hamas a terrorist organisation (64%), and believe attacks on Jewish people have genocidal elements (62%). 

As reporter Ryan Broderick explained last month when discussing bin Laden’s supposed popularity with a new generation, what is really happening is that click-hungry journalists are either purposefully cherry-picking trends to support predetermined conclusions or simply failing to understand the scale of newer, more popular social media platforms such as TikTok. By taking this approach, they are misrepresenting blips on the radar as far-reaching patterns.

Recently, the press has attributed these changing opinions to the likes of TikTok, which presidential candidate Nikki Haley this month claimed makes young people “17% more pro-Hamas”. The apprehension is understandable to some degree: 10 years ago, nascent trends on Tumblr were written off as “ridiculous”, and the domain of the “terminally online”. Today, many of the beliefs which gained traction in fandom communities on the platform — including the idea that sex is a spectrum, not a binary — inform both public policy and large-scale activism. 

Yet trend-forecasting and prematurely naming trends are two separate things. Again and again on Tumblr, reporters would witness a small group of people posting disturbing content, prematurely declare the beginning of a craze, and inspire copycats where there previously wouldn’t have been any. The press, then, was an essential component in certain behaviours or beliefs disseminating. 

In Broderick’s article about bin Laden’s Letter to America, he suggests something similar happened. The videos may have been sincere, but it was not a trend. The “trend” would surely not have been on the collective radar but for culture warriors prematurely reaching an apocalyptic conclusion about teens glorifying terrorism.

So what is really going on with kids and terrorism? The climate is changing, but sensationalist polling top lines do little to clarify generational shifts. Sadly, the distinction between “this is happening”, and “in the view of the journalist, this is probable with the available information” is an important one. Reporters would do well to take note.

Katherine Dee is a writer. To read more of her work, visit