Sunday 23rd September 2018

Disinformation and fakery: the worst confirmed examples of propaganda on the Syrian war

Jason Smith
by on 15th April 2018

President Trump’s recent announcement about a coalition of forces comprising the US, the UK and France coordinating airstrikes against Syria has renewed conversations on social networks about the role of propaganda in the conflict.

Political commentators have taken to social media over the last few days to highlight some of the more egregious examples of mischaracterization, fakery, propaganda and disinformation, and we’ve curated these below.

Brother saves sister under gunfire

This video attracted over 3.8 million views on YouTube and was characterized as a young Syrian boy under gunfire faking death to save his sister.

However, according to the BBC, the video was filmed by a Norwegian director on a film set in Malta. Its director, Lars Klevberg, deliberately portrayed the film as real to start discussions about children in conflict zones.

In its original post on the video, the BBC outlined its suspicions that the video may be fake.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph reported the video hadn’t been independently verified but that experts state they “have no reason to doubt its authenticity”.

The video was subsequently published by other media outlets and social media users, some of which co-opted the Telegraph’s analysis (some of these posts are still on media websites without correction).

Klevberg told the BBC “…we wanted to see if the film would get attention and spur debate, first and foremost about children and war. We also wanted to see how the media would respond to such a video”.

The video has been distributed hundreds of times on YouTube and continues to be characterized as both fake and real (though instances characterizing the video as fake now appear to outnumber instances characterizing the video as real).

Child lying between the graves of her deceased parents

The child in this image was characterized as a Syrian orphan lying between the graves of her deceased parents. According to the Independent, the child wasn’t an orphan and the photograph wasn’t even taken in Syria.

Rather, the image was taken in Saudi Arabia by photographer Abdul Aziz al Otaibi and was latterly repurposed, mischaracterized and widely shared on social media.

The two graves are just mounds of pebbles.

The original photographer told the Independent in 2014 “look, it’s not true at all that my picture has anything to do with Syria…I am really shocked how people have twisted my picture”.

The mischaracterized image was viewed over 1 million times on Imgur and hit the frontpage of popular social networking website Reddit.

To this day social media users continue to share the image under the impression it depicts a Syrian orphan.

Child lying on the floor surrounded by blood

Back in 2014, ISIS, which by January 2014 took control of Syria’s capital Raqqa only to lose it to US-backed forces in 2017, distributed an image of a child lying on his back surrounded by blood.

However, according to a tweet by Haidar Sumeri, a reporter covering the Middle East who distributed two versions of the photograph, the image is fake.

Sumeri’s second image shows the child grinning and crouching beside dead chickens. According to Sumeri, responsibility for the child’s death was placed at the feet of Iraqi forces.

Both images can be seen on the Mirror (this link goes to an article on the UK’s Mirror news website and contains images some readers may find disturbing).

Russian TV broadcasts footage of the Syrian conflict

On 25th February 2018, Russia’s Channel One TV aired footage which it claimed showed the military activity of Russian troops in Syria.

However, according to the BBC, a snippet of footage in the video was from the video game ARMA 3.

This isn’t the first-time Russian media organizations or Russian state officials have been accused of characterizing video game footage as reality.

In May 2016, the Twitter account of the Russian Embassy for the UK was accused of passing off an image of a video game as a Russian military operation.

The tweet in question is still live on the Russian Embassy’s Twitter account at the time of writing.

Moreover, on 14th November 2017, Russia’s Ministry of Defence published what it claimed was “irrefutable proof” that the US was assisting ISIS in Iraq. According to the BBC, the image came from a video game called “AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron”.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence then stated that an employee had mistakenly attached the photo. The Ministry of Defence then updated its statement with a different set of images and claimed the new images also proved its claim.