After Iran and Pakistan exchanged missile strikes in mid-January, falsified news about the two regional powers’ escalating conflict, including fabricated statements and documents, went viral on X.
The upsurge of misinformation involved reputable journalists and anonymous accounts alike, with millions of users sharing suspicious content.
On the eve of Pakistan’s January 17 retaliatory strikes against Iran, Aaron Zelin — a prominent American researcher and founder of the Jihadology website that reports on global radical Islamic movements — shared an Arabic-language post by PakArmyAR, a blue-checked user.
PakArmyAR’s post included the claim that on the eve of Pakistan’s retaliatory attack against Iran, Pakistani troops “entered Iran”:
“The Pakistani army entered Iran and struck and destroyed a number of bases belonging to terrorist separatist groups based in Iran with missiles and drones.”
That is false.
No credible sources reported that Pakistani troops entered Iran on January 17.
PakArmyAR’s post has garnered more than 3 million engagements.
In a comment to the post, Zelin wrote: “Pakistan hits back.”
The user, PakArmyAR, describes itself as the Pakistani army’s official Arabic-language account. Created roughly a year ago, it has upwards of 34,000 followers – a miniscule number compared with the more than 6 million followers of OfficialDGISPR, the Pakistani Army’s official English-language account.
In contrast, the PakArmyAR account has a blue checkmark – a feature available to any user with a premium subscription to the platform.
“Accounts that receive the blue checkmark as part of a Premium subscription will not undergo review to confirm that they meet the active, notable and authentic criteria that was used in the previous process,” X said in an explainer.
In fact, there are other blue-checked users on X describing themselves as official Pakistani army accounts. Here are just a few examples:
Additionally, OfficialDGISPR , the Pakistani army’s grey-checked account, has been inactive since May 2023. But the blue-checked accounts mentioned above are active and have been posting at least twice daily. Their content seems authentic, and they are complimentary about the Pakistani armed forces, often including patriotic videos and photographs, with some resembling army ads.
Polygraph.info asked Pakistan’s Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Pakistani army’s press office and the Pakistani Ministry of Information and Broadcasting whether the blue-checked X users posing as official accounts of the Pakistani Armed Forces are authentic and officially represent the army. None had responded to the inquiry by the time of this publication.
Bot Sentinel, an open-source online tool that detects automated accounts on X, found no suspicious activity in the behaviors of the blue-checked users that describe themselves as official Pakistani army accounts. Bot Sentinel’s analysis suggested that these accounts are being run by humans, not bots.
These blue-checked users posing as official accounts of the Pakistani army often use language different from official military statements, some including direct threats and jihadist-style religious references.
In addition to PakArmyAR’s false claim that Pakistani troops “entered Iran” on the eve of Pakistan’s retaliatory attack against Iran, another viral post on X claimed that Pakistan was banning journalists from reporting about Iranian airstrikes.
That claim was backed up by Indian journalist Aditya Raj Kaul, the TV9 Network’s executive editor.
Kaul posted a copy of what appeared to be a Pakistani government document that stated:
“All media houses are being instructed not to publish/broadcast any news
related to Iranian strikes in Panjgur and Turbat. Media personnel are not allowed in affected areas till further instructions from Government.”
In a comment to the document, Kaul wrote that the Pakistani government “banned all journalists from visiting the areas” affected by the Iranian airstrikes.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting reacted with an X post saying that the document was a “fake and fabricated note.”
The Indian fact-checking website News Checker examined the document posted by Kaul and determined it was forged. News Checker also interviewed Pakistani journalists who said that their government had not imposed such a ban.
As of this publication, Kaul’s post had gained more than 195K interactions. It is still up, despite having been debunked by Pakistani officials and fact-checkers.
On January 17, Pakistan launched retaliatory airstrikes against Iran in response to its strike two days earlier, which Pakistani authorities said killed two children.
Citing Iranian media, Reuters reported that multiple missiles struck the Sistan-Baluchestan province on Iran’s border with Pakistan, killing at least nine people, including four children.
On January 22, Pakistan announced that Iran's foreign minister would visit Islamabad, signaling efforts to improve bilateral relations. Pakistan and Iran have agreed to take steps to "de-escalate" tensions, Al Jazeera reported.