Global attention remains fixed on the Israel-Hamas war as 2023 draws to a close.
With news organizations largely blocked from independently accessing the Gaza Strip, and at least 64 journalists and media workers killed, severe limitations hamper efforts to report and verify information about the conflict.
Spreaders of misinformation and disinformation, with varied agendas, have seized on this murky environment to unleash a torrent of fakes and misrepresentations or otherwise take advantage of the highly emotive conflict to benefit their political agendas or simply rack up engagement.
Polygraph.info looks back at some of the narratives which emerged from the conflict, where they were spread, and whose interests they serve.
Recycling old footage
Since Hamas launched its deadly attack on Israel on October 7, social media networks have been flooded with recycled footage to support false, misleading or otherwise unsubstantiated narratives about the conflict.
Polygraph.info has documented a number of such cases, including multiple attempts to pass off footage and images from the war in Syria, an Indian navy missile test, militant activity in the Philippines, Azerbaijan detaining Karabakh leaders in a disputed territory, and other repurposed footage as coming from the Israel-Hamas conflict.
These fabrications have come from state and non-state actors, targeting both Israelis and Palestinians.
One subsection of this phenomena, called Pallywood — a mix of the words “Palestine” and “Hollywood” — involves the repackaging of old and unrelated footage to accuse Palestinians of staging scenes of death and violence to score propaganda points against Israel.
Some social media users used images from the Syrian civil war to accuse Palestinians of staging scenes of carnage.
Prominent spreaders of anti-Israel disinformation also recycled images which had featured in a Russia-backed disinformation campaign to falsely accuse Syrian volunteer rescue workers of staging atrocities.
Using Israel as a wedge against Ukraine
Russia, which maintains relations with Hamas and is aligned with Israeli foes Iran and Syria, has increasingly been critical of Israel’s prosecution of the war in the Gaza Strip.
Russian officials have attempted to deny Israel’s right to self-defense following the deadly October 7 Hamas attack in southern Israel, which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians.
To stress the plight of the Palestinians and/or minimize Ukrainian suffering, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hamas officials have made misleading comparisons between the death toll in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip.
During his year-end annual press conference, Putin falsely claimed the scale of destruction he unleashed in Ukraine bore no comparison to the war in Gaza.
Putin has also falsely claimed that the United States orchestrated the Israel-Hamas war and his war with Ukraine, among other conflicts, and made the baseless claim that “the United States and its satellites” were behind antisemitic riots on Russian soil.
Other Russian officials blamed those anti-Jewish riots on Ukraine.
Social media: a prime driver of fake news
While Russian, Iranian and other state-controlled media in authoritarian states are sources of Israel-Hamas war disinformation, social media remains a prime driver of fake and manipulated information about the conflict.
Senior European Union officials had previously expressed alarm at the scope of disinformation that pro-Hamas hacktivist groups and aligned users are disseminating across social media platforms.
While Facebook, TikTok and YouTube have been used to spread disinformation, X, formerly Twitter, has repeatedly come under scrutiny for allegedly giving a platform to serial spreaders of fake and misleading content.
Many of the false claims documented by Polygraph.info since the Israel-Hamas war erupted originated on X.
Spreaders of such disinformation are not necessarily motivated by state interests or political ideology.
In documenting some of the fakes on X, Polygraph.info noted subscribers to the platform’s premium service have a financial incentive to spread posts that go viral, including disinformation, as blue-checked users are eligible for ad revenue sharing if they have 500 followers and have generated five million impressions in the preceding three months.
On December 18, the European Commission announced it had decided to open formal infringement proceedings against X under the Digital Services Act, or DSA, citing its concerns over “the dissemination of illegal content in the context of Hamas' terrorist attacks against Israel,” among others.
Platforms like TikTok, which polls show have become a main source of news for younger generations worldwide, also offer what Fortune magazine called a “low-cost pathway to spread propaganda on hot-button topics.”
Polygraph.info has documented TikTok being used to that end, not only on the Israel-Hamas conflict, but also to spread disinformation about instances of civil unrest in Europe, natural disasters in North Africa, and propaganda concerning Islamist apocalyptic narratives.