In a 28-second video posted on Twitter this week by a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian militants appeared to be launching rocket attacks on Israelis from densely populated civilian areas in the Gaza Strip.
At least, Ofir Gendelman, Mr. Netanyahu’s spokesman, said the video. But his tweet with the footage, which was shared hundreds of times as the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis escalated, wasn’t from Gaza. It wasn’t even that week.
Instead, the video he shared, which can be found on many YouTube channels and other video hosting sites, was from 2018. According to captions in older versions of the video, militants were shown, the rockets not from Gaza but from Syria or Libya fired from Syria.
The video was just misinformation circulated on Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media this week about the increasing violence between Israelis and Palestinians when Israeli military forces attacked Gaza early Friday. The false information included videos, photos, and text clips that allegedly came from government officials in the area. Earlier this week, unfounded claims were made that Israeli soldiers had invaded Gaza or that Palestinian mobs were raging through sleepy Israeli suburbs.
According to an analysis by the New York Times, the lies were amplified as they were shared thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook and spread across WhatsApp and Telegram groups with thousands of members. The effects of the misinformation are potentially fatal, disinformation experts said, creating tension between Israelis and Palestinians when suspicions and suspicions were already high.
“Much of this is a rumor and a broken phone, but it’s being shared right now because people are desperate to share information about the developing situation,” said Arieh Kovler, a Jerusalem political analyst and independent researcher who studies misinformation . “What makes it more confusing is that it’s a mix of false claims and real stuff that is being attributed to the wrong place or time.”
Twitter and Facebook, which own Instagram and WhatsApp, did not respond to requests for comment. Christina LoNigro, a spokeswoman for WhatsApp, said the company has put limits on how many times people can forward a message in an attempt to contain misinformation.
TikTok said in a statement, “Our teams have worked quickly to encourage, and continue to work, to encourage and remove misinformation, attempts, violence, and other content that violates our community guidelines.”
The Times found several misinformation this week spreading through Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods and activist WhatsApp groups. One, which appeared as a block of Hebrew text or an audio file, contained a warning that Palestinian mobs were preparing to descend on Israeli citizens.
“Palestinians are coming, parents protect their children,” said the message, which specifically pointed to several suburbs north of Tel Aviv. Thousands of people belonged to one of the Telegram groups where the post was shared. The post then appeared in several WhatsApp groups that had tens to hundreds of members.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict
May 16, 2021, 7:21 p.m. ET
The Israeli police did not respond to a request for comment. There were no reports of violence in any of the areas named in the message.
Another post earlier this week, written in Arabic and sent to a WhatsApp group of over 200 members, warned that Israeli soldiers would invade Gaza.
“The invasion is coming,” read the text that asked people to pray for their families.
Arabic and Hebrew language news sources also appeared to reinforce some of the misinformation. Several Israeli news outlets recently discussed a video showing a family with a wrapped body going to a funeral to drop the body when a police siren sounded. The video was cited by news organizations as evidence that Palestinian families held false funerals and exaggerated the number of people killed in the conflict.
In fact, the video appeared on YouTube over a year ago and may have featured a Jordanian family holding a fake funeral, according to the title of the original video.
Clips from another video showing religious Jews ripping their clothes as a sign of devotion were also broadcast on Arabic-language news sites this week. The clips were cited as evidence that Jews faked their own injuries during clashes in Jerusalem.
That was wrong, according to Times analysis, the video was uploaded several times to WhatsApp and Facebook earlier this year.
There is a long history of misinformation between Israeli and Palestinian groups, with false allegations and conspiracies increasing in moments of heightened violence in the region.
In recent years, Facebook has removed several Iranian disinformation campaigns in an attempt to fuel tension between Israelis and Palestinians. Twitter also shut down a network of fake accounts in 2019 that was smeared on opponents of Mr. Netanyahu.
The grainy video Mr Gendelman shared on Twitter Wednesday, allegedly showing Palestinian militants launching rocket attacks on Israelis, was removed Thursday after Twitter labeled it “misleading content”. Mr. Gendelman’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Gendelman also appears to have misrepresented the content of other videos. On Tuesday, he posted a video on Twitter instructing three adult men to lie down on the floor with their bodies being arranged by a nearby crowd. Mr Gendelman said the video showed Palestinians staging bodies for a photo opportunity.
Mr Kovler, who traced the video back to its source, said the video was posted on TikTok in March. The accompanying text states that the footage shows people practicing for a bomb drill.