Fake Footage of Iran’s Attack on Israel Is Going Viral Fake Footage of Iran’s Attack on Israel Is Going Viral
In the hours after Iran announced its drone and missile attack on Israel on April 13, fake and misleading posts went viral almost immediately... Fake Footage of Iran’s Attack on Israel Is Going Viral

In the hours after Iran announced its drone and missile attack on Israel on April 13, fake and misleading posts went viral almost immediately on X. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a nonprofit think tank, found a number of posts that claimed to reveal the strikes and their impact, but that instead used AI-generated videos, photos, and repurposed footage from other conflicts which showed rockets launching into the night, explosions, and even President Joe Biden in military fatigues.

Just 34 of these misleading posts received more than 37 million views, according to ISD. Many of the accounts posting the misinformation were also verified, meaning they have paid X $8 per month for the “blue tick” and that their content is amplified by the platform’s algorithm. ISD also found that several of the accounts claimed to be open source intelligence (OSINT) experts, which has, in recent years, become another way of lending legitimacy to their posts.

One X post claimed that “WW3 has officially started,” and included a video seeming to show rockets being shot into the night—except the video was actually from a YouTube video posted in 2021. Another post claimed to show the use of the Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense system, during the attack, but the video was actually from October 2023. Both these posts garnered hundreds of thousands of views in the hours after the strike was announced, and both originated from verified accounts. Iranian media also shared a video of the wildfires in Chile earlier this year, claiming it showed the aftermath of the attacks. This, too, began to circulate on X.

“The fact that so much mis- and disinformation is being spread by accounts looking for clout or financial benefit is giving cover to even more nefarious actors, including Iranian state media outlets who are passing off footage from the Chilean wildfires as damage from Iranian strikes on Israel to claim the operation as a military success,” says Isabelle Frances-Wright, director of technology and society at ISD. “The corrosion of the information landscape is undermining the ability of audiences to distinguish truth from falsehood on a terrible scale.”

X did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.

Though misinformation around conflict and crises has long found a home on social media, X is often also used for vital real-time information. But under Elon Musk’s leadership, the company cut back on content moderation, and disinformation has thrived. In the days following the October 7 Hamas attack, X was flooded with disinformation, making it difficult for legitimate OSINT researchers to surface information. Under Musk, X has promoted a crowdsourced community notes function as a way to combat misinformation on the platform to varying results. Some of the content identified by ISD has since received community notes, though only two posts had by the time the organization published its findings.

“During times of crisis it seems to be a repeating pattern on platforms such as X where premium accounts are inherently tainting the information ecosystem with half-truths as well as falsehoods, either through misidentified media or blatantly false imagery suggesting that an event has been caused by a certain actor or state,” says Moustafa Ayad, ISD executive director for Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. “This continues to happen and will continue to happen in the future, making it even more difficult to know what is real and what is not.”

And for those that are part of X’s subscription model and ad revenue sharing model, going viral could potentially mean making money.

Though it’s not clear that any of the users spreading fake or misleading information identified by ISD were monetizing their content, a separate report released by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) earlier this month found that between October 7 and February 7, 10 influencers, including far-right influencer Jackson Hinkle, were able to grow their followings by posting antisemitic and Islamophobic content about the conflict. Six of the accounts CCDH examined were part of X’s subscription program, and all 10 were verified users. The high-profile influencers who are part of X’s ad revenue sharing program receive a cut of advertising revenue based on ”organic impressions of ads displayed in replies” to their content, according to the company.

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