Video Games and False Hostages:

How Hamas-Israel War Information is Weaponised

Fact-checkers have identified dozens of fake and misleading videos about the Hamas-Israel war on social media, including footage from video games. They say information is being weaponised. Source: SBS News

Fact-checkers say they weren’t surprised when disinformation and fake news started to surface after Hamas attacked southern Israel, which has responded by  bombarding Gaza  more than ever before and staging a blockade  depriving the enclave of food, water, power and aid.

Fact-checkers from French news agency AFP debunked videos of the initial Hamas attack, which turned out to be clips taken from the military simulation game Arma 3, clips from a concert in Tel Aviv, footage from Mexico and footage of paragliders in Egypt.

Before facts had been established about the hostages taken  by Palestinian group Hamas, social media accounts posted footage of hostages in Turkey in 2016, and photos of troops in Gaza in 2022, claiming they were from the Hamas attack, AFP said.

“People are searching around wanting to see what’s happening, and that creates an information void, so if there’s no quality information available, then whatever is out there will be sometimes just grabbed upon and amplified,” RMIT CrossCheck director Dr Anne Kruger told SBS News.

As the conflict has continued, Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, have accused each other of targeting Gaza’s al-Ahli Arab Hospital  and denied responsibility.

“I think we just have to be very careful before we jump to conclusions,” Kruger said.

“Sometimes there’s a grain of truth in things, but it gets twisted, and if we can’t categorically prove something, it doesn’t mean that atrocities haven’t happened.”

She said it can take a long time, even “weeks” to be able to make proper assessments of what happens in war zones.

Social media content is today’s war propaganda

Professor of communication at the University of Canberra, Mathieu O’Neil, said changes to X made since the company formerly known as Twitter  was bought by Elon Musk had resulted in an increase in questionable content on the platform.

“It used to be that you could have some legitimacy based on your expertise, and then you’d have a lot of attention because people would retweet you.”

O’Neil said changed algorithms driven by profit meant people who were willing to pay

 would get more exposure and users would have “less access to people who have 

legitimate expertise.”

O’Neil said while in days gone by, communiques may have been sent out to push a certain message in a conflict, social media is now stepping in as a form of war propaganda.

“Strategic actors are using information warfare tools and trying to shape the narrative,” he said.

“Propaganda is a part of war, propaganda has always been used to paint the enemy in the worst possible light … the difference is that now there’s a lot more uncertainty about who’s doing it because of the anonymity of the accounts.”

O’Neil admitted there was difficulty in verifying facts “when you have an immediate situation”, so warned that unless people were willing to spend time checking the veracity of information, images or video, people should reconsider re-sharing content.