Viral Video From Gaza Protests Not *Actually* From Gaza Protests

A video from 2013 student protests in Egypt was recycled to accuse Palestinians of staging their own deaths

(Source: @DFRLab)

Amid renewed protests in Gaza and Israel’s use of violence in response, more than 100 Palestinians were killed between April and May this year. This sparked a heated debate both offline and online, which quickly turned partisan in the United States and beyond.

The UN human rights chief called Israel’s response to protests “wholly disproportionate”. In a separate statement from May 15, the UN human rights chief added:

The rules on the use of force under international law have been repeated many times but appear to have been ignored again and again.

Disinformation Amid Conflict

On May 16, a video started trending on Twitter, which suggested that at least one of the killed Palestinians staged his own death and was, in fact, alive. The video panned across several rows of seemingly dead bodies covered with white shrouds, then one person covered with a shroud starts scratching their nose. The accompanying post by @_p4z_ read:

When you’re a dead Palestinian martyr but your nose keeps itching.

(Source: @_p4z_ / Twitter)

This video, however, was not filmed in Gaza, nor the West Bank.

The video first appeared on El Badil, a left-leaning Egyptian news outlet. The video showed Egyptian students protesting by pretending to be dead.

This was not the first time this footage was used out of context to spread disinformation. Back in 2014, Egyptian TV channel El Balad TV used the footage in March 2014 as evidence that the bloodiest attack on protesters in modern history, the Rabaa massacre of 2013, was staged.

Narrative Spread

The video on Twitter was watched more than 964,000 times at the time of this report. The original user @_p4z_’s tweet was retweeted nearly 30,000 times and liked more than 43,000 times.

(Source: Sysomos)

According to Sysomos data, among the most influential amplifiers of the tweet with the falsely referenced video were several prominent conservative influencers, such as @benshapiro, InfoWars editor Paul Joseph Watson (@prisonplanet), and @steph93065.

Based on the word cloud of retweeters’ bios, it appeared that the video spread mostly within the American conservative filter bubbles.

The video was also widely shared on Facebook with the same post, which said:

When you’re a dead Palestinian martyr but your nose keeps itching.

@DFRLab identified at least 16 copies of the video circulating on the platform. In total, these were watched upwards of 158,000 times.

(Source: Facebook.com / Archived version)

Conclusion

The popularity of the out-of-context video showed how fast a sensationalist piece of falsified content can spread through social networks in the midst of an developing security situation. It was noteworthy that the out-of-context video was watched almost a million times across Twitter and more than 158,000 on Facebook.

This is not the first time that @DFRLab observed out-of-context videos being used to spread disinformation. Last week, DFRLab wrote about a video with false subtitles spreading in the Moldovan information space. The video allegedly depicted Moldova’s mayoral candidate agreeing to lease the city of Chisinau to the United Arab Emirates for 50 years. The doctored video went viral on social networks and generated more than 500,000 views.

Both of these case studies serve as stark reminders for social media users to remain vigilant and skeptical when consuming information online from new or unverified sources. Only this can produce digital resilience across society.


Donara Barojan is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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