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Content Misattribution and Disinformation in Israeli-Hamas War

Disinformation and misinformation have a growing impact on major socio-political events like the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war. The division of loyalties and sympathies affects people’s ability to think critically, reason, and emotional stability – a key factor that determines sharing behaviors.

In the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, social media posters use deliberately emotive hyperbolic language, flooding the digital landscape with highly partisan fake content. Thus, social networks have become the “epicenter of disinformation pandemic,” the Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank said in its recent research on the role disinformation plays in amplifying hostilities.

One tactic that social media users routinely employ to spread misinformation is misattribution — they put forward old footage or images from the past and say that they show current events either in Gaza or Israel.

This repackaging of old footage is often used to support narratives that are otherwise unsubstantiated. Polygraph has previously debunked a whole barrage of such misleading and false posts, including:

Pro-Palestinian X users have used this same misinformation technique to fabricate celebrity support for their cause. X user SFarheen99 posted a compilation of the world-famous footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo, which contains several misleading and fake components.

The video captioned “Cristiano Ronaldo is with Palestine” starts off with an authentic video of the athlete addressing the camera in English and saying: “I am a very famous player, but you are the true hero…” and “Don’t lose your hope, the world is with you, I am with you.” These words of support by Ronaldo were taken from Ronaldo’s X account, where he posted this video in 2016. The video was part of an initiative to show support for the people of Syria by Save The Children, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the well-being of youths worldwide.

The video contains Urdu translations of what Ronaldo is saying, which indicates an attempt to rally support for Palestinians within Urdu speaking populations in Pakistan and India.

SFarheen99’s video then includes convincing footage of a footballer waiving the Palestinian flag on the pitch. The footballer in the video bears a striking resemblance to Ronaldo. However, this player is not Ronaldo, and this video has been debunked by fact-checkers, including WION, an English-speaking Indian news outlet.

WION found that the footballer in the viral video is not Ronaldo but Jawad El Yamiq, a Moroccan footballer. The video of El Yamiq waiving the Palestinian flag was taken in 2022 during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar after Morocco defeated Canada.

While SFarheen99’s video is just shy of 30 thousand views, the issue of reusing old videos and claiming they are of a current conflict is widespread.

Nexta is a Belarusian media outlet that posts on YouTube, Telegram, and X, with over 1.1 million followers on X.

On November 6, Nexta posted a video that claimed the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah had published a video of its anti-warship misses following the U.S.’s increased presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

X users’ community note quickly exposed the video as old footage from 2019. verified these findings.

However, Nexta kept the video up, and it now has over 750 thousand views.

An Indian fact-checking outlet Boom also confirmed the community note and added that “the video is from 2019 and shows a documentary about how Lebanon-based political party and militant group Hezbollah attacked Israeli ships during the 2006 war.”

These examples of disinformation demonstrate how small and massive accounts endeavor to confuse, misinform, and manipulate social media users.

This misinformation tactic is stable across conflicts and is becoming increasingly prevalent.

A New York City-based company NewsGuard which provides media literacy tools to help detect and counter misinformation said in October that verified users produce 74% of X’s false or unsubstantiated claims about the Israel-Hamas war.

NewsGuard said that these instances of misinformation were “cumulatively viewed by more than 100 million times globally in just one week.”

X’s new user verification policy allows anyone to gain algorithmic authority at the price of $8 per month, “[f]or less than the cost of a movie ticket, [verified users] have gained the added credibility associated with the once-prestigious blue checkmark [which enables] them to reach a larger audience on the platform,” exacerbating the issue of misinformation, NewsGuard reported.