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PoliticsMiddle East

How to spot fake news during Israel-Hamas war

October 23, 2023

The conflict between Israel and Hamas has been marked by a wave of disinformation online. DW's fact-checking team offers some advice on how to distinguish what's true and what's false.

Megaphon mit Sprechblase FAKE NEWS
Image: M. Gann/picture alliance/blickwinkel/McPHOTO

Did dozens of Hamas fighters paraglide into Israel, as a Tik-Tok video purported to show?

And did footballer Cristiano Ronaldo really hold up a Palestinian flag after a match, as another video claimed to show?

These are just two out of many videos that have been widely shared on social media since the war began between Israel and Hamas.

And, as DW's fact-checking team clarified in this analysis, both examples are fake.

They are also part of a significant challenge: Distorted facts are spreading as large numbers of users are going online to search for trustworthy information that can help them understand what's happening in the Middle East.

"The amount of disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, confusion is as high as I have ever seen in any conflict," Andy Carvin, the managing editor of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, recently told DW.

So how can users identify and check what's true and what's false in times of war and heightened political and military tensions? Here are some pointers from DW's fact-checking team.

This article is part of a series on digital literacy. Other articles include:

And here you can read how DW fact-checks fake news.

Fakes 'create outrage'

Especially in times of war, information can be controversial, shocking and distressing.

For example, a video circulating online that DW has identified as false purports to show Israeli soldiers abducting two little Palestinian girls. Such a video could cause anger, sadness and other emotions. It may also lead you to support one side of the conflict or the other.

Fake news stories such as this one are most effective precisely when strong emotions are involved.

Cognitive psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky told DW this year that "fake news tends to create outrage in the receiver."

"And we know that people, whether you like it or not, are engaging with outrage-provoking information," Lewandowsky said. "That makes it more likely for them to go viral," he added.

Answering these questions might help you develop a healthy degree of caution before you engage with information:

  • How does this video/text make you feel?
  • Is this an issue that triggers you because it reinforces some of your views?
  • Who could have an interest in spreading this story and why?
  • Are there any hints that could point to a dubious origin?
  • What does your gut feeling tell you about this issue?

Check the source

Social media post shows a player who appears to be Cristiano Ronaldo on a pitch
Does this grainy picture show Cristiano Ronaldo with a Palestinian flag?Image: @M_Arif61/X

Many users are now accessing the news in times of war not directly through a specific news website or app, but through social media platforms, online search engines or aggregators. These are known as "side-door routes."

This has, in some cases, weakened the connection between users and news brands that usually publish reliable information.

And it has made it more difficult to determine on social media where certain information comes from.

Knowing the source, however, is key to establishing whether a video, an image or an article is reliable. Even when the information is true, identifying where it comes from also helps to identify the source's agenda and possible biases.

If the social media account is linked to a person, check what else they have published and where. Look them up on other platforms and, if they say they work for a media outlet, search for them there. Also, try to identify what else they have published on the war to determine whether they're knowledgeable.

If the account refers to a website, check its "about us" section or look for an imprint that can give you more details on what kind of information it shares, how it is funded, and whether there may be any government or commercial involvement.

And, in the case of images or videos that may have been manipulated, a reverse image search can help you trace their origin.

To do a reverse image search, take a picture or a screenshot and put it in a search engine such as Google Images or Tin Eye.

Screenshot: tanks, men in desert with the text "Footage shown is used for illustration"
A video claiming that Egypt had begun defending Palestinians went viral on social mediaImage: YouTube/@DCM Global

Examine the content

Earlier this month, a video claimed that Egypt had joined the war, with hundreds of tanks entering Gaza. However, a fact check by DW revealed that the video did not provide any evidence for the claims.

A detailed look at the video revealed contradictions and inconsistencies.

It can help to search for the information elsewhere — and especially to look for whether reliable news organizations have also reported such claims.

Egypt's direct involvement in the conflict would have probably been covered extensively. But, in this case, an online search found that no established media outlet had reported on plans by Egypt to join the conflict.

Additionally, you can look at websites that are dedicated to debunking fake news such as Factcheck.org, Snopes and Full Fact and you may also check the fact-checking departments at big news organizations.

If a story is suspected of being fake, some of these sites may likely have already done some research on it.

In this case, fact-checking site PolitiFact wrote an article saying there have been "no credible news reports or government declarations that Egypt is now at war with Israel."

Edited by: Rachel Baig