On November 14, the Russian Defense Ministry posted on both Twitter and Facebook what it called “irrefutable evidence” showing the U.S. helping ISIS fighters in Syria retreat and regroup. However, eagle-eyed internet users quickly discovered at least one of the photographs was actually from the video game AC-130 Gunship Simulator.
The other photos were determined to have come from air strikes in Iraq last year.
The Russian Defense Ministry quickly “corrected” its post with new photos, but those it used were too blurry to determine what they depicted or where they were taken.
The Russian parody Twitter account Lentach and other Twitter users began to respond to the original post with their own “irrefutable evidence” of U.S. malfeasance, all featuring screenshots from popular video games.
According to Aric Toler, a researcher for the open source intelligence group Bellingcat, the screenshot had been used as a fake photograph in the past.
“The vast majority of fakes are done out of laziness -- people find the same clips and recycle them over and over,” Toler told Polygraph.info. “So this is no different -- this gunship simulator game has had footage used for both the U.S. ‘killing’ ISIS and the U.S. ‘allowing’ ISIS to pass.”
This is not the first time Russian authorities or their proxies in Ukraine have used video game screenshots to illustrate their claims. In July 2015, a news site associated with the Russian-backed, self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” in Ukraine claimed that local authorities had found U.S.-manufactured Stinger surface-to-air missiles in the Luhansk International Airport. The story featured what was purported to be a photograph of one of the man-portable missile launchers in a shipping crate. This time it was a Russian gaming site that recognized the image as being from the popular video game Battlefield 3.
In May of 2016, the Twitter account of the Russian Embassy in Britain used a screenshot from the game Command and Conquer: Generals to illustrate a tweet claiming “extremists” in Aleppo had received “chemical ammo.”
While the photo was labeled “For illustration purposes only” and not purported to depict actual events, Twitter users reacted with their own parodies of the tweet using their own video game screen shots.
On November 14, approximately 250 ISIS fighters were allowed to leave the besieged city of Raqqa with 3,500 civilian family members and some of their weapons in a secret deal brokered by their opponents, the Syrian Democratic Forces. The U.S./Britain-led coalition was aware of the deal, but a Pentagon spokesperson explained that the convoy of vehicles was not targeted for airstrikes due to the high number of civilians it was transporting.