Fact check: Identify and check fake news in the Middle East war

The conflict between Israel and the terrorist organization Hamas is characterized by disinformation on the Internet. The DW Fact Check team gives tips on how to identify and check fake news.

Did dozens of Hamas fighters land in Israel by paraglider, as a TikTok video purported to show? And did soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo really hold up a Palestinian flag after a game, as another video apparently showed?

These are just two of many videos that have been shared on social media since the conflict between Israel and Hamas* began. And as the DW Fact Check team made clear in this analysis, both examples are fakes.

Falsified facts are spreading rapidly online

They are also part of a major challenge: distorted facts are spreading as large numbers of users search online for trustworthy information to help them understand the conflict in the Middle East.

“The level of disinformation, misinformation, propaganda and confusion is greater than ever before in a conflict,” Andy Carvin, senior editor of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, recently told DW.

So, in times of heightened political and military tensions, how can users identify and verify what is true and what is not? Here are some tips from the DW Fact Check team.

Counterfeits can generate outrage

Particularly in times of war, information can be controversial, shocking and disturbing. For example, a video that DW has identified as a fake is circulating on the Internet and allegedly shows Israeli soldiers kidnapping two little Palestinian girls.

Such a video can trigger anger, sadness and other feelings. It can also lead to supporting one side of the conflict or the other. Fake news like this is most effective when strong emotions are involved.

Cognitive psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky told DW a few months ago that “people respond particularly strongly to information that triggers negative feelings such as outrage.”

Answering the following questions can help develop a healthy level of caution before engaging in information:

  • How does this video/text make you feel?
  • Is this a topic that triggers emotions because it reinforces some of your views?
  • Who might be interested in spreading this story and why?
  • Are there any clues that could point to dubious origins?
  • What does your gut feeling tell you about this topic?

Always check the source

Many users no longer find news directly through a specific news website or app, even in times of war, but through social media platforms, online search engines or aggregators. This has, in some cases, weakened users’ loyalty to news brands that typically publish reliable information. It has also made it more difficult to determine where certain information comes from on social media.

Knowing the source helps determine whether a video, image, or article is reliable. Even if the information is true, citing the source also helps identify the provider’s agenda and possible bias.

If the account is linked to a person, check what else that person has posted and where. Check other platforms and look for the person there if they say they work for a media company. Also try to find out what else the person has published to determine if they are knowledgeable or an expert in the field.

If the account links to a website, check the About Us section or look for a legal notice that will give you more information about what type of information it shares, how it is funded, and whether there may be government or commercial involvement gives.

And in the case of images or videos that may have been manipulated or from other events, a reverse image search can help you find the origin.

To perform a reverse image search, you can upload an image or screenshot to a search engine such as Google Images or Tin Eye.

The content of a statement can also be verified

Earlier this month, a video claimed that Egypt had entered the war and sent hundreds of tanks into the Gaza Strip. However, a fact check by DW found that the video contained no evidence to support these claims.

A closer look at the video revealed contradictions and inconsistencies. It may be helpful to look for the information elsewhere – and especially to check whether reliable news organizations or primary sources have also reported such claims.

Egypt’s direct involvement in the conflict would have been reported in great detail. In this case, however, online research revealed that no mainstream media outlet had reported on Egypt’s plans to become involved in the conflict.

You can also check the websites of fact-checking teams, for example Correctiv or Hoaxsearch – or whether fact-checking departments of well-known and independent news organizations have reported on it.

If you suspect a report is fake, some of these sites have probably already written about it.

* Hamas is a militant Islamist organization and was elected the strongest force in the Palestinian parliament in 2006. She has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007 without any further democratic mandates. Many states, especially Western ones, classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Hank Peter

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