FACT FOCUS: Misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war is flooding social media. Here are the facts

By Isaac M October 14, 2023

In the days since Hamas militants stormed into Israel early Oct. 7, a flood of videos and photos purporting to show the conflict have filled social media, making it difficult for onlookers from around the world to sort fact from fiction.

While plenty of real imagery and accounts of the ensuing carnage have emerged, they have been intermingled with users pushing false claims and misrepresenting videos from other events.

Among the fabrications, users have shared false claims that a top Israeli commander had been kidnapped, circulated a doctored White House memo purporting to show President Joe Biden announcing billions in aid for Israel, and pushed old and unrelated videos of Russian President Vladimir Putin with inaccurate English captions.

Here is a closer look at the misinformation spreading online — and the facts. CLAIM: A video shows a BBC News report confirming Ukraine provided weapons to Hamas.

THE FACTS: The widely shared video clip is fabricated, officials with the BBC and Bellingcat, an investigative news website that is cited in the video as the source, confirm.

The clip, which includes the BBC’s distinctive block-text logo, purports to show a story from the outlet about a recent report from Bellingcat on Ukraine providing arms to Hamas.

“Bellingcat: Ukrainian military offensive failure and HAMAS attack linked,” reads the text over the video, which has more than 2,500 comments and 110,000 views on the messaging service Telegram. “The Palestinians purchased firearms, ammunition, drones and other weapons.”

But neither the BBC nor Bellingcat has reported any evidence to support the notion that Ukraine funneled arms to Hamas.

“We’ve reached no such conclusions or made any such claims,” Bellingcat wrote Tuesday in a post on X that included screengrabs of the fake report. “We’d like to stress that this is a fabrication and should be treated accordingly.”

Eliot Higgins, the Amsterdam-based organization’s founder, noted in a separate post on X that the claims have been amplified by Russian social media users.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a New York University professor briefly shown near the end of the video, also disputed the clip’s suggestion that he’s said the U.S. might leave NATO if the arms claims prove true.

“Entirely fake. Never said that,” the distinguished professor of risk engineering wrote in an email.

Spokespersons for the BBC didn’t respond to emails seeking comment, but Shayan Sardarizadeh, a reporter with the organization’s fact checking unit, confirmed in a post on X Tuesday that the video is not real.

Ukrainian officials have similarly dismissed the notion that its country’s arms have somehow found their way to Hamas. The country’s military intelligence agency, in a Monday post on its official Facebook page, accused Russia of plotting a disinformation campaign around these claims.

Experts say there is also no evidence of Hamas making any claims about receiving arms from Ukraine, nor would it make sense for Kyiv to provide them.

“I see no reason Ukraine would do this,” said Michael O’Hanlon, director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “Starting with the fact that Kiev is in the business of obtaining weapons and not giving them away.”

— Associated Press writers Philip Marcelo in New York and Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv contributed this report.

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CLAIM: The Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrios was destroyed during Israel’s bombing of Gaza.

THE FACTS: Officials with the church confirmed Thursday the structure remains intact and unharmed during the shelling.

Posts circulating on social media falsely claimed that the holy Christian site, located in the al-Zaytun section of Gaza’s Old City, had become a casualty in the conflict.

“Israel just blew up the third oldest church in the word,” wrote an Instagram user. “Saint Porphyrius Orthodox Church in Gaza was 1,616 years old.”

But the house of worship remains standing, according to church officials who took to social media in recent days to debunk the false narrative.

In email replies Thursday, officials confirmed the church would host worship services Friday morning. They also referred the Associated Press to the regular updates that have been posted on the church Facebook page.

A post on the page in Arabic on Tuesday said the church remains “untouched and operating” to assist the congregation and broader community in Gaza, and that claims circulating online about it being damaged are false.

— Philip Marcelo.

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CLAIM: Video of a young actor being filmed lying in a pool of fake blood shows propaganda being created for use in the Israel-Hamas war.

THE FACTS: The video is behind-the-scenes footage from the making of “Empty Place,” a short film focused on the story of Ahmad Manasra, a Palestinian who was arrested at age 13 in 2015 in relation to the stabbing of two Israelis.

Social media users on both sides of the latest Israel-Hamas war are sharing the video, each falsely alleging that it’s proof the other group is creating propaganda about their own.

In the clip, a young actor lies on a sidewalk covered in fake blood, his right leg bent backward, as a film crew works around him. Other actors mill about dressed as soldiers and in garb worn by many orthodox Jewish men.

“See how Israelis are making fake videos saying that Palestine Freedom Fighters killed children,” reads one tweet that had received more than 5,600 likes and more than 4,400 shares as of Wednesday.

An Instagram post claimed the opposite, stating: “These terrorists are dressing up as JEWISH soldiers to create fake videos about Israeli soldiers! Faking Propaganda!”

But neither allegation is correct. The video shows footage from the making of the 2022 short film directed by Awni Eshtaiwe, a filmmaker based in the West Bank. The scene being shot begins about 1 minute and 10 seconds into the approximately 2 minute film.

Mohamad Awawdeh, a cinematographer listed in the film’s credits as a camera assistant, posted the behind-the-scenes footage to TikTok in April 2022, around the time the film was released. A caption on the post, written in Arabic, explains that the scene being filmed in the video shows Manasra being attacked. Awawdeh posted the same footage to Instagram on June 30.

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CLAIM: Nimrod Aloni, a top general in the Israeli army, was captured by Hamas militants during a deadly incursion Saturday into southern Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip.

THE FACTS: There’s no truth to this claim, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces confirmed. Aloni was seen Sunday at a meeting of top Israeli military officials.

The erroneous claim that Aloni was one of the hostages taken by Hamas spread widely online Saturday after the militant group attacked Israel.

“Palestinian resistance fighters capture Israeli commander Nimrod Aloni along with dozens of other Israeli soldiers as the resistance fighters attacked neighbouring occupied towns and Israeli check posts near Gaza,” stated one Instagram post that received more than 43,000 likes.

But Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the IDF’s chief military spokesman, told reporters on Saturday that claims Aloni was captured are “not true.”

Aloni clearly appears 10 seconds into a video posted to the Israeli military’s official YouTube channel of top IDF officials discussing the war on Sunday. Sunday’s date can be seen on a slide in the background. The IDF also published online four images from the meeting. The one on the lower right shows Aloni on the far right.

The Israeli army confirmed to The Associated Press that Aloni is the man in the video and image.

Hamas militants are holding Israeli civilians and soldiers hostage in Gaza, the Israeli military has confirmed. The militants have cautioned that they will kill a hostage every time Israel’s military bombs civilian targets in the Gaza Strip without warning.

— Associated Press writer Melissa Goldin in New York contributed this report.

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CLAIM: A memo shows that President Joe Biden just announced he is sending $8 billion in military aid to Israel.

THE FACTS: An image of a memo being widely shared online was fabricated, and Biden has not made any such announcement, the White House confirmed on Monday.

Social media users began sharing the altered image in the wake of Saturday’s surprise attack on Israel by Hamas.

It appears to show Biden authorizing Secretary of State Antony Blinken to direct up to $8 billion in aid, as Israel formally declared war Sunday.

The purported memo is formatted like other orders posted on the White House website, complete with the blue-and-white White House logo at the top and Biden’s name at the bottom.

“BREAKING! Biden signs order to send $8 BILLION in Military Aid to Israel,” wrote one user who shared the memo on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

But the widely shared memo is a fake, Sean Savett, a White House spokesperson, confirmed Monday. The funds released to Iran are also not related to Hamas’ attack, the office also maintains.

The memo appears to be a doctored version of an order Biden issued providing war assistance to Ukraine this summer.

Much of the language mirrors that July 25 missive, including the title: “Memorandum on the Delegation of Authority Under Section 506(a)(1) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.”

The real memo called for up to $400 million for Ukraine in its ongoing war with invading Russian forces. Biden’s name appears in the center of the fake document, rather than the right side as in the original.

Savett, in his emailed reply, also pointed to Biden’s call over the weekend with Israel President Benjamin Netanyahu, in which the Democrat reiterated that help was on the way to bolster Israel and that more assistance would arrive in the coming days.

The administration deployed the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, which sailed to the Eastern Mediterranean on Sunday carrying approximately 5,000 sailors and a deck of fighter jets. It was accompanied by a group of cruisers and destroyers in a show of force and support for Israel.

— Philip Marcelo.

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CLAIM: A video shows Hamas fighters parachuting onto a sports field before attacking Israeli citizens during the group’s surprise attack on Israel.

THE FACTS: While Hamas did employ paragliders to get some fighters across the border between Gaza and southern Israel, the footage of the sports field shows parachute jumpers in Cairo, Egypt, and has been online since at least September.

The clip shows people strapped to multi-colored parachutes descending onto a crowded sports field complex filled with children and families, many in red sports jerseys.

“Hamas paraglided amongst Israeli citizens and proceeded to massacre them,” text on the video clip reads. One post of the misleading footage on TikTok was viewed more than 38,000 times.

But this footage has been online since at least Sept. 27, when it was posted to TikTok with the location tag “Egypt.”

Details of the video also point to Egypt as the location — a person is wearing a blue shirt that reads “El Nasr SC” on the back, the name of a sporting club in northeastern Cairo.

Images of the club on Google Maps match the scene of the video — as well as several other clips of the event from the same TikTok user — with both showing a bright blue fence around a sporting ground next to a paved area with green and blue plastic seats.

The parachuters land on a larger soccer pitch surrounded by tall field lights. The field matches photos posted to the club’s Facebook page and footage of its soccer team’s matches, including a distinctive red building with a blue fence on top at one end that can be seen in the TikTok clip at around 19 seconds.

Other TikTok users shared footage of a parachuting similar scene around the same time, with “El Nasr” in the caption in Arabic.

The crowd of onlookers in the clip circulating online also doesn’t seem distressed by the arrival of the parachuters, as one might expect if they were an invading force. In fact, many women and children are seen running towards them, phones in hand taking videos and photos of the aerial display.

— Melissa Goldin.

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CLAIM: Two videos show Russian President Vladimir Putin warning the U.S. to “stay away” from the latest Gaza war.

THE FACTS: Bothvideos circulating online are months-old clips of Putin speaking about the Russia-Ukraine war, not the conflict in the Middle East, which have been miscaptioned in English.

Both videos show Putin speaking in Russian, with false English captions saying he was warning the U.S. to refrain from helping the Jewish state.

“America wants to Destroy israel as we destroy ukraine In past,” the captions on one video state. “I am warning America. Russia will help palestine and america can do nothing.” One TikTok post that shared the clip had received approximately 11,600 views as of Monday.

A caption on another video of Putin, filmed in a different location, similarly reads: “I am warning america to stay Away from palestine israel war.”

But the two clips long predate the latest Israel-Hamas war and make no mention of Israel at all.

The first shows Putin at a meeting of Russia’s Human Rights Council in December 2022, where, amid discussions about the war in Ukraine, he responded to a question about the country’s potential use of nuclear weapons, as the AP reported at the time. The footage was featured by multiple other newsoutlets with similar translations.

In the second, Putin is speaking at a February 2023 event marking the 80th anniversary of the World War II Soviet victory over Nazi German forces in the battle of Stalingrad. In his remarks, he compared this threat to Germany’s then-recent decision to supply Ukraine with tanks, the AP reported at the time. Several media outlets also featured the footage in similar reports.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that Russia is “extremely concerned” by the “spiral of violence” in Israel. Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister and former ambassador to Israel and Egypt, told the state Tass agency Saturday that Moscow has been in touch with “all parties (of the conflict), including Arab countries” and was urging for “an immediate cease-fire and peace.”

— Melissa Goldin.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.

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