STANFORD, California: Someone tracking the conflict raging in the Middle East could have seen the following two videos on social media. The first shows a little boy hovering over his father’s dead body, whimpering in Arabic: “Don’t leave me.” The second purports to show a pregnant woman with her stomach slashed open and claims to document the testimony of a paramedic who handled victims’ bodies after Hamas’ attack in Israel on Oct 7.
Even though these videos come from different sides of the Israel-Hamas war, what they share far exceeds what separates them. Because both videos, though real, have nothing to do with the events they claim to represent. The clip of the boy is from Syria in 2016; the one of the woman is from Mexico in 2018.
CHEAP BUT EFFECTIVE FAKES
Recent headlines warn of sophisticated, AI-driven deepfakes. But it is low-tech cheap fakes like these that fuel the latest round of disinformation.
Cheap fakes are the Swiss army knife in the propagandist’s tool belt. Changing a date, altering a location or even repurposing a clip from a video game and passing it off as battlefield combat require little know-how yet effectively sow confusion.
The good news is that you can avoid being taken in by these ruses – not by examining the evidence closely, which is liable to mislead you, but by waiting until trusted sources verify what you’re looking at. This is often hard to do, however.
Most people are ill-equipped to detect this kind of trickery. Research that we review in our new book, Verified: How To Think Straight, Get Duped Less, And Make Better Decisions About What To Believe Online, shows that almost everyone falls for it.
In the largest survey of its kind, 3,446 high school students evaluated a video on social media that purported to show election fraud in the 2016 US Democratic primary election. Students could view the whole video, part of it or leave the footage to search the internet for information about it.
Typing a few keywords into their browsers would have led students to articles from Snopes and the BBC debunking the video. Only three students – less than one-tenth of 1 per cent – located the true source of the video, which had, in fact, been shot in Russia.