Fireworks displays and computer games among fake conflict videos viewed millions of times on social media

By Isaac M October 13, 2023

False videos, pictures and information have sprung up on social media since Hamas’s deadly attack on Israel last weekend which sparked retaliation strikes on the Gaza Strip.

Fireworks displays, excerpts from video games and clips posted months ago are among the false material seen and shared by millions of people on sites like X, formerly Twitter, and TikTok, purporting to show scenes from the conflict.

Social media platforms are under pressure from the UK and EU governments to combat misinformation and violent content on their platforms following the Hamas raid in Israel on Saturday.

But countless false videos purporting to show events in Israel and Gaza remain easily accessible across TikTok, X, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, with some clocking up tens of millions of views.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” said Achiya Schatz, executive director of the Israeli fact-checking NGO Fake Reporter.

One of the most prolific videos we’ve seen falsely claiming to show events from the past few days is pictured below, showing fireworks in an urban area.

At the time of writing, a compilation of footage that uses this clip was the top liked video on TikTok when searching for the word “Gaza”.

The video has garnered 2.9 million likes and over 59 million views altogether.

It’s also been shared on other platforms. On X, multiple users posted the video falsely claiming it shows Israel bombing Gaza with phosphorus. Taken together, these posts have been viewed over a million times.

A reverse image search of the footage’s key frames, however, reveal that it had been shared on the internet before Saturday’s events unfolded.

One user posted it on TikTok on 2 October and another shared it on YouTube on 28 September – meaning the footage existed well before the conflict between Israel and Hamas started.

A series of very similar videos posted to X in June show celebrations in Algiers, Algeria after the win of the football team CR Belouzidad.

The clip was removed from TikTok after Sky News reported it to them.

But not all of the widely-shared false clips require as many steps to reveal them as unrelated to the situation in Israel and Gaza.

Another video shared on X by the American-Israeli lawyer and Republican representative Marc Zell claimed to show a Hamas militant with a Jewish girl he said had been kidnapped and taken to Gaza.

The clip he shared had been viewed over 1.1 million times, while two other posts that repeated the claims also garnered over one million views each.

The video comes with a TikTok watermark which states the name of the account the video was posted by. A brief search on the short form video app shows the video was posted by the user back in September – rendering the claim that it shows a kidnapped child in Gaza impossible.

The clip has since been deleted by its original poster, but it continues to be reshared elsewhere with the false context attached.

X has issued a “community note” on some of the most widely-shared iterations of the video on its platform, which is a comment underneath certain posts outlining further context.

If enough users add notes with additional information underneath a particular post, the note will appear visible to all who read it.

The "Community Note" shared under Mr Zell's post. Pic: X
The ‘Community Note’ shared under Marc Zell’s post. Pic: X

In this case, users were advised that the clip posted by Mr Zell is unrelated to the conflict in Israel and Gaza. However, other posts using the video and false information remain on X without this additional context.

X today said that its community notes team had been bolstered after the EU issued a warning regarding the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Computer-generated material taken from video games has also proliferated online in the days since the latest fighting in Israel and Gaza broke out.

Sky News found one clip – originally from the combat game Arma 3 – shared on X, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube all claiming to show Hamas militants shooting down Israeli helicopters.

A close look at the video displays clear signs that it is computer generated. The objects lack shadows, and appear cartoonish.

A reverse image search of one of the video’s keyframes alongside the word “video game” reveals images of similar scenes from a game called Arma 3.

A search for the terms “Arma 3 helicopter shot down” reveal a series of clips, including one posted on YouTube February 2023 that matches the clip claimed to be from Gaza.

The same clip from the video game Arma 3 was posted on YouTube shorts in February of this year. Pic: YouTube
The same clip from the video game Arma 3 was posted on YouTube shorts in February of this year. Pic: YouTube

On X, the most-viewed posts that use the video carry a community note explaining that the video is not from Israel or Gaza.

However, they’ve still amassed millions of views on the platform. One post has garnered over 2.6 million, while another clip also from Arma 3 but purporting to show Gaza has clocked up over 10.9 million views.

‘It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before’

Achiya Schatz is the executive director of the NGO Fake Reporter, a disinformation watchdog in Israel that asks users to report online falsehoods to them.

He says the amount of misinformation and hateful material surfacing online in the days since the attacks is remarkable.

“It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” he told Sky News.

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Debunking myths of misinformation online

Schatz says that the lack of communication from the Israeli government during the Hamas attack’s initial stages created an information void that, combined with the shock of the attack, became filled with false information and conspiracy theories.

“In terms of the reports we receive from the public, X is definitely at the top,” he told Sky News.

Many of the most widely-shared posts we encountered in our research were made by accounts subscribed to X Premium, the paid-for service that offers users perks including content promotion and financial compensation for posts that perform well.

Using the social listening platform TalkWalker, Sky News analysed the top posts across X, TikTok and YouTube that used the Arabic hashtag “Al Aqsa Flood” – the name given by Hamas to Saturday’s attack.

The post using the hashtag with the highest engagement was from an X Premium user making the unsubstantiated claim that the Emir of Qatar had threatened to halt global gas supplies if the bombing of Gaza did not cease.

This unsubstantiated claim received the highest engagement of any post under the Arabic hashtag for ‘Al Aqsa Flood’. Pic: X

“It was claimed that the Premium option would reduce malicious content. But the truth is, we see paid services that are carrying conspiracies and messages promoting violence. It seems like the structure of content moderation is not sufficiently built and capable to serve the users,” he said.

Meta and X have responded to pressure from the UK and EU regarding the proliferation of misinformation on their platforms, with both companies saying they are putting additional resources towards addressing the situation.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, says it is investigating the material found by Sky News.

X did not respond to a request for comment.

The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.


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