The Israel-Gaza war that broke out on October 7, 2023, was the leading topic of false claims and fake news last month, accounting for more than 71% of the 94 fact-checks published by BOOM.
This was followed by the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup and the upcoming state Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh comprising more than 6% and 5.3% of all fact-checks, respectively.
Of the 94 fact-checks that were published in October, in English, Hindi and Bangla, 71.3% fell under the ‘International’ category. 12.8% of the claims were ‘Political’ in nature, followed by ‘Sports’-related (8.5%) claims. Most ‘International’ false claims were related to the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.
Mis - and disinformation about the Israel-Gaza War
On October 7, Hamas, an Islamic militant group, governing the occupied Gaza strip, launched a surprise attack on Israeli soldiers and civilians as part of their ‘Al-Aqsa Storm’ operation, killing more than 1,400 people. The militant group then infiltrated border communities and took more than 200 civilians and soldiers hostage. In retaliation, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to "demolish” Hamas. The Israeli authorities launched thousands of airstrikes on Gaza, causing widespread deaths of civilians and displacement of nearly 1.4 million Palestinians.
Israel’s ensuing carnage of the Gaza strip has killed more than 9,700 Palestinians, more than two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The war simultaneously triggered a deluge of misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms.
Here are the trends we observed:
BOOM published 68 fact-checks related to the Israel-Gaza war in October. Of these, 92.6% of the misinformation and disinformation were sensationalist.
While there are scores of genuine social media accounts sharing reports from the ground in Gaza, there has been a flood of digitally manipulated videos and doctored images purporting to show the war. 13% of the 68 fact-checks had Artificial Intelligence Generated, deepfake or video game footage-related images and videos that were circulated as real.
BOOM has debunked at least 7 ARMA 3 (open world tactical shooter simulation) video game footage that were pushed as real. For instance, a video showing a fleet of fighter jets in the sky went viral with false claims that it was Israel’s counterattack against Hamas. However, we found that the video was not real and was created using a combat simulator. One of the videos included a caption that read, “Israel is about to rain down hellfire on Gaza, follow us for more updates”.
Similarly, a viral deepfake video showing American model Bella Hadid stating her support to Israel was falsely shared as real. In the manipulated video, Bella says, “"It's Bella Hadid. On October 7 2023, Israel faced a tragic attack by Hamas. I can't stay silent. I apologize for my past remarks. This strategy has opened my eyes to the pain endured here and I stand with Israel against terror. I've taken time to truly learn the historical context. Now with a clear understanding, I hope we can engage in constructive dialogue moving forward. Thank you."
However, we found that the video was originally from 2016 and showed Hadid speak about her challenges growing up with Lyme disease.
Further, several fact-checks contained old or unrelated images or videos from past events. For instance, an old video from the Philippines of a Catholic church being vandalised by terrorists affiliated to the Islamic State (IS) was falsely shared as a Baptist church being attacked by Hamas in Gaza. After running a keyword search on Youtube, we found that the original video was uploaded in 2017 in Marawi, Philippines.
BOOM debunked another viral photo which claimed that the Israeli PM’s son was joining the military amidst the current war. But we found that the photo was captured in 2014 when Netanyahu’s younger son, Avner, began his mandatory three-year service in the Israeli army.
BOOM also noticed a trend wherein fake news was intentionally shared to dismiss the current horrifying experiences of the Palestinian people due to the war in Gaza. These images or videos were shared with captions which claimed that Palestinians were “faking injuries” or “faking death”.
For instance, an old video showing behind-the-scenes footage of actors and make-up artists on a film set went viral and was falsely shared as Palestinians faking injuries amidst the ongoing war. We found that the video was aired by Turkish public broadcaster TRT World in 2017 as part of their programme 'Showcase' while reporting about the Palestinian film industry.
BOOM debunked another viral image of a person wrapped in a white cloth and dressed like a corpse while using their phone. The caption in the image claimed that the people in Gaza were faking their own deaths to inflate the Palestinian death toll in the region.
After running a reverse image search of the viral image on Google, we found that it was shared several times as a meme before the war began. The claim was false and the photo was taken at a Halloween party in Thailand in 2022.
Misinformation around the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023
8.5% of the fact-checks we published fell under the ‘Sports’ category mainly due to the ongoing Cricket World Cup hosted by India. Fake news related to the Israel-Gaza war crept into the Cricket World Cup domain as well. For example, a viral X (formerly Twitter) post, was circulated with false claims stating that the Indian cricketer Mohammed Siraj had dedicated India's victory over Pakistan in the 2023 World Cup to Israel.
BOOM found that the X post was posted by a parody X handle impersonating Siraj.
Another video of Pakistan's men's cricket team captain Babar Azam wearing a saffron scarf went viral on social media with false claims that the entire team was welcomed to India for the Cricket World Cup with saffron scarves.
After verifying on Google, we found that the claims were misleading and were communal in nature. The video shows Pakistan’s cricket team receiving a warm welcome from fans at the Hyderabad airport. This was followed by their arrival at the Park Hyatt Hotel. Here, the staff was seen welcoming them with drinks and draping scarves around their shoulders. The second half of the video shows the players being given scarves of all colours including pink, violet, blue, green, and saffron, among others.
Misinformation around the 2023 Assembly elections
The upcoming 2023 Assembly elections accounted for 5.32% of all fact-checks. The top three targets of false claims were Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Indian National Congress’ Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Of the five fact-checks, three had ‘Manipulated Content’.
For example, a viral snippet of Amitabh Bachchan on his show, ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ supposedly referring to the CM of Madhya Pradesh as the “announcement minister” who only makes speeches and does not do real work, was doctored. BOOM found that the viral video was digitally manipulated using fake graphics and a fake audio impersonating Bachchan.
Medium of deception
81% of false claims and fake news were shared via videos, followed by images (9.6%) and texts (9.6%).
Nature of claims by medium
Nearly 64% of ‘International’ claims (which mainly consisted of the Israel-Gaza war), 9.57% of ‘Political’ claims and 4.26% of ‘Sports-related claims were peddled via videos.
Further, BOOM’s analysis shows that over two-thirds of these videos were circulated with the intention of spreading ‘Fake Sensationalism’ (defined as presenting information in a way that is intended to provoke/excite individuals and appeal to their emotions).
Over 6% of the videos spread ‘Demographic Anxiety’(defined as creating animosity against specific demographic groups). This was followed by ‘Smear Campaigns’ (3.19%) (defined as an attempt at damaging the public image of individuals/organisations).
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