April 15, 2024 | WIRED, NPR & more

Misleading, false and AI-generated footage of Iran’s attack on Israel goes viral

Following Iran’s drone and missile attack on Israel on Saturday— a response to an Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic mission in Syria on 1 April—, unverified and falsified images shared by ‘checkmark’ paid premium X subscribers, self-proclaimed ‘OSINT’ (open source intelligence) accounts or citizen journalists, and even the Iranian government, garnered millions of views on X, filling the well-known information vacuum characteristic of crises situations.

ISD’s rapid response analysis, led by our Executive Director to AMEA, Moustafa Ayad, and Director of Technology and Society, Isabelle Frances-Wright, was covered in WIRED, Sky News, NPR, and AFP affiliates.  Moustafa and Isabelle found that in just the first seven hours of the drones being launched “34 false, misleading or AI generated images and videos claiming to show the ongoing conflict received over 37 million views on X (formerly Twitter).”

“[Misinformation] is becoming a pattern that you can almost predict at every sort of crisis or attack,” Moustafa said to Sky News. “In those initial hours, you’re going to get a lot of information, a lot of which is not going to be verified or is completely false. We’ve seen that in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we’ve seen that on October 7th, we’ve seen that during the bombardment of Gaza. It’s best to hold off on interacting with that sort of content in the initial hours, unless it’s been verified by a media outlet.”

To NPR, Isabelle adds: “Misinformation can gain a lot of traction when people have questions they need urgent answers to during time-bound events like election days and during conflict.”

Of the identified content from Saturday, 77% came specifically from paid ‘verified’ accounts benefiting from algorithmic amplification, with much of the content appearing to be repurposed footage of earlier incidents from related or unrelated conflicts or AI-generated content.

Although who is behind these accounts or what their motive might be is unclear, Moustafa shared with NPR that the accounts had previously posted pro-Iran and pro-Kremlin content and already had large followings. The misleading content will give viewers a false sense of the conflict while also spurring Islamophobia and antisemitism. “Users who see this content will often comment about how — ‘I hope the Muslims kill the Jews’ or ‘the Jews die.'”

ISD also found that the Iranian government ran repurposed footage of a wildfire in Chile on their state TV, claiming to be showing damage in Israel from the strikes. These images were widely circulated on social media.

Speaking to WIRED, report co-author Isabelle said: “The fact that so much mis- and disinformation is being spread by accounts looking for clout or financial benefit is giving cover to even more nefarious actors, including Iranian state media outlets who are passing off footage from the Chilean wildfires as damage from Iranian strikes on Israel to claim the operation as a military success. […] The corrosion of the information landscape is undermining the ability of audiences to distinguish truth from falsehood on a terrible scale.”

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