Fake or real? Israel-Palestine conflict sees 'tsunami of misinformation' flood social media

One false claim spreading on X and Facebook shows a White House document edited to look like approval for $8 billion in military funds to Israel

By Agencies

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Published: Thu 12 Oct 2023, 11:56 AM

Last updated: Thu 12 Oct 2023, 12:17 PM

Social media has been flooded with images purporting to show the multipronged October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel and the military response. But a series of clips originated from video games -- mostly "Arma 3," AFP confirmed from the game development company and other sources.

"BREAKING – Hamas militants started a new air assault on parts of Israel !!!" a now made private October 8, 2023 post on X -- formerly known as Twitter -- says, sharing what appears to be missiles launched into the sky at night.

On Facebook, posts claimed to show rocket attacks or helicopters being shot in broad daylight in the hours following the assault on Israel.

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Another falsely labelled video purporting to be Hamas militants with a kidnapped child, and video from a concert by American singer Bruno Mars miscaptioned as footage from an Israeli music festival that was attacked by Hamas, according to Reuters Fact Check.

The barrage launched by Hamas militants from Gaza on October 7 resulted in the deadliest blow on Israel in decades. Israel declared war on Hamas the following day, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of the start of a sustained campaign to destroy Hamas and "change the Middle East."

Experts told AFP tech platforms are struggling to contain a tsunami of misinformation around the hostilities after rolling back content moderation policies. These clips are among many that proved fake, using animated footage unrelated to the recent onslaught in the region.

Through several reverse image searches on Google, AFP found identical matches for the videos. Most of the clips circulated online before the attack and are attributed to the same source: a video game series called "Arma," developed by independent Czech company Bohemia Interactive.

The company's public relations manager, Pavel Krizka, said by email on October 10 that a series of videos AFP asked about "were indeed shot in heavily 'modded' (featuring assets and game changing features made by third parties) Arma 3 game."

The video game developer also posted a statement: "With the tragic events currently unfolding in the Middle East, we feel it is vital to share once again our statement concerning the use of #Arma3 as a source of fake news footage."

The post links to a press release, first issued in November 2022, addressing the use of Arma 3 clips in posts falsely claiming to show conflicts, namely the war in Ukraine -- a topic AFP previously fact-checked.

"It's disheartening for us to see the game we all love being used in this way. While we have found ways to tackle this issue somewhat effectively by closely cooperating with leading fact-checking agencies, sadly we can't mitigate it entirely."

Game footage

The night footage can be found on YouTube, posted on February 21, 2022, with the caption: "MLRS Artillery fire - Barrage - Military Simulation - ArmA 3 #Shorts."

Bohemia Interactive game designer Ivan Buchtasaid in a private message on Twitter on October 9 that the video showed a "MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) launch video" on Arma 3.

The video said to show a rocket attack during the day originated from a Facebook page that says it belongs to a "Gaming video creator." Other videos posted live on Facebook say the account is "playing Arma 3."

The clip of helicopters being shot in daylight can be found on YouTube in an October 3, 2023 post with the caption: "Two combat helicopters shot down by anti aircraft defense - Arma".

Another clip circulating on X clearly shows signs of computer animation -- in a similar style to what is shown on the Arma 3 website.

The pixelated, simplistic graphics of the soldier seen in the clip confirm they are not from a real-life conflict.

The landscapes seen in the video also appear to match the graphics seen in Pyrgos, on the fictional island of "Altis," a game location in Arma 3.

"The shooter is roughly north of Pyrgos - the island with the 'bridge' is characteristic," game designer Buchta said, adding that the launcher seen in the clip is a "semi-fictional" weapon.

Some widely circulated posts on Facebook use animated combat images and mention the war in Israel, but the users acknowledge they were "streaming Arma 3," as highlighted in orange below.

Fake White House document

The United States has pledged support to Israel. But a supposed White House document allocating $8 billion in military assistance is fake; the image circulating online appears to show a doctored version of a July 2023 memo announcing $400 million in aid to Ukraine.

"Joe Biden approved the allocation of $8 billion in military aid to Israel. Ukrainian now have a significant competitor and the situation is now becoming significantly more complicated for them," says an October 7, 2023 post from an anonymous account called "Sprinter," which has previously shared disinformation under slightly different aliases.

The post is one of several on X, formerly known as Twitter, spreading what appears to be an authentic White House statement.

Similar posts circulated on other sites, including Facebook and TikTok, after Hamas militants on October 7 launched a surprise attack on Israel. Publications such as the Indian news site Firstpost published headlines repeating the claim.

The White House also told US outlets including NBC News the missive circulating across social media is inauthentic.

Flight simulation program

Bohemia Interactive's Krizka also pointed out visual clues to help AFP identify that another clip, widely circulating on X, was fabricated. "The video is definitely not depicting any real-life events and was produced in a video game," he said.

Several searches on Google for keywords including "air," "aviation," "Hamas," "Israel," and "attack" led to the original post of the clip, which gathered millions of views on TikTok.

The person who posted the video states on social media that they specialize in "Digital Combat Simulator videos".

Digital Combat Simulator World is developed by Eagle Dynamics, based in Switzerland.

The caption of the TikTok post also makes several mentions that the content was "filmed with Digital Combat Simulator," as highlighted in orange below.

In a post on the social media platform on Monday, X said it removed newly created accounts affiliated with the Islamist group Hamas and had "actioned tens of thousands of posts for sharing graphic media, violent speech, and hateful conduct." X did not disclose the actions it took on the posts, which can be removed or have their distribution reduced by the company.

A Meta spokesperson said a team of experts including Hebrew and Arabic speakers were monitoring the "rapidly evolving situation in real-time."


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