A Look at Disinformation Around Israel Attacks and False Claims on Social Media

In the days since Hamas attacked Israel, killing more than 1,200 people in sweeping assaults on kibbutzim, a music festival, towns and other places, violent images and graphic videos have flooded social media.

So too have false and misleading information, old and unrelated videos and photos with inaccurate claims, and fabricated assertions about the involvement of countries like the United States and Ukraine — adding confusion and deception to an already chaotic moment.

The false information circulating online risks clouding real evidence of atrocities that is emerging as Israeli soldiers retake control of places that were attacked: videos and photos, corroborated by witness accounts, that show that Palestinian gunmen attacked and killed Israeli civilians in large numbers. Soldiers and emergency workers are still recovering the dead, including children, in many communities.

Here’s a look at some of the inaccurate material circulating online.

While Hamas members on paragliders crossed into Israel from Gaza, users on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, shared an unrelated, months-old video of a paragliding accident in South Korea. The video captures a paraglider who got caught on a power line, which then sparked a fire.

“A Palestinian terrorist attempting to enter Israel by air, getting stuck on an electrical wire, and frying!” one person falsely claimed on Wednesday.

Multiple Korean media outlets reported on the incident in June 2023. According to local reports, a man got caught in a high-voltage wire while paragliding near the coastline of Seopjikoji, on Jeju Island.

A geolocation search also confirms that the incident happened at Seopjikoji, showing the same sign on the road that was filmed in the video.

Amid authentic footage of families grieving losses from the conflict, a 15-second clip circulating on X is being misrepresented as showing a “little boy in #Gaza grieving for his sisters.”

Reverse image searches show the video has been online for almost a decade. CNN shared the video in February 2014, as the Syrian government was bombing rebel-held parts of Aleppo, Syria, during the country’s civil war. CNN’s report noted that it could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.

Social media users shared a clip purportedly showing footage of “a new air assault on parts of Israel.” But the imagery is in fact taken from a video game, Arma 3, as a video shared on YouTube in 2022 shows. A representative for the game’s developer, Bohemia Interactive, also confirmed the clip online was taken from the game.

Visuals from that game have been used in the past to misrepresent other real-world conflicts, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Some people on social media have shared a video of a woman being lit on fire, surrounded by a crowd of people, suggesting it showed the torture of an Israeli woman captured at a festival.

“This is the diabolic face of Hamas Jihadi terrorists torturing Israeli girl at the Nature Festival in Re’im,” read one post of the video on X, which has since been removed.

The video depicts real violence — but violence that took place in Central America in 2015, not Israel in 2023. The footage depicts a 16-year-old being burned to death in a Guatemalan village, CNN reported at the time.

An image circulating online was made to resemble a screenshot of a purported Oct. 7 White House announcement providing Israel with $8 billion in aid, with some suggesting it indicated Ukraine would now have competition for U.S. help.

But the White House published no such announcement.

The supposed announcement resembles actual memorandums issued by the White House, notably a similar July announcement concerning assistance for Ukraine.

President Biden gave an address Tuesday about the Hamas attacks and vowed to support Israel, a U.S. ally that receives more than $3 billion in military assistance every year. Mr. Biden and White House officials have said the administration will be asking Congress to authorize additional support for Israel.

On Tuesday, the American ambassador to NATO said that U.S. military assistance to Israel would not come at Ukraine’s expense. The United States has committed around $45 billion in weapons and military aid to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

A fabricated video shared on Telegram and X purported to show a BBC report that Bellingcat, an investigative group, had found that weapons provided by NATO to Ukraine had been sold to Hamas.

“Bellingcat: Ukrainian military offensive failure and HAMAS attack linked,” opening text on the video claimed.

But the BBC never published that report, and the underlying claim is unsubstantiated.

Bellingcat’s founder, Eliot Higgins, called the video “100% fake.” Shayan Sardarizadeh, a BBC journalist, also said it was false.

And President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has condemned Hamas and repeatedly expressed support for Israel. Hamas and Russia, he said in a speech on Monday, are “the same evil, and the only difference is that there is a terrorist organization that attacked Israel, and here is a terrorist state that attacked Ukraine.”

This image — posted on X under the words “Breaking News” — claims to show Israeli warplanes bombing St. Porphyrius Orthodox Church, the largest church in Gaza.

Church officials put out a statement saying that the reports were false. “We would like to inform you that St. Porphyrios Church in Gaza is untouched,” they said on Facebook. “The news circulating about it being damaged are false.”

Israel says it has launched hundreds of strikes targeting Hamas in Gaza since Saturday. Gaza residents and health authorities say that mosques, hospitals and schools are being hit, and U.N. officials have said that airstrikes have damaged water, sanitation and hygiene facilities affecting more than 400,000 people.

CNN on Monday published real footage of a correspondent, Clarissa Ward, and her colleagues ducking for cover as rockets were fired near the Israel-Gaza border.

A manipulated version of the report has been widely shared online, with audio edited over the video to suggest a control room was giving the crew instructions, suggesting the report was somehow staged.

“CNN EXPOSED FOR FAKING AN ATTACK IN ISRAEL,” reads one X post with the video.

“The audio in the video posted and shared on X is fabricated, inaccurate and irresponsibly distorts the reality of the moment that was covered live on CNN,” a spokesperson for the network said, urging viewers to watch the real footage on a trusted platform.

On Wednesday, false reports circulated online claiming that the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon was being evacuated, prompting officials to debunk the assertion publicly.

The embassy responded with a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying: “The U.S. Embassy in Beirut has not evacuated and is open and operating normally. Reports saying otherwise are false.”

Embassy officials have advised U.S. citizens in the area to take caution and avoid traveling to the Lebanon-Israel border, where the Israeli military and the group Hezbollah have exchanged fire over recent days. Israel briefly invaded Lebanon in 2006 after Hezbollah assailants crossed the border and abducted two Israeli soldiers, and the group’s recent border fire has raised fears of a wider regional conflict.