In 2020, the JowharObservers team verified hundreds of fake or misleading images sent to us by social media users or found by our staff. Here’s a look back at some of the videos and photos – misleading, out of context or completely fake – that we debunked over the last 12 months.
The death of an Iranian military leader sparks lots of misleading images
Qassem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s elite military unit Quds Force, was killed by a US-ordered air strike in Baghdad, Iraq, on January 3. What followed was an influx of fake or incorrectly assigned images that allegedly showed the attack or Iranians. reactions. A video claiming to show a missile at the time of the raid was viewed over 700,000 times. But with the help of satellite images and official images of the scene, our team was able to show that the video did not actually show the moment of death.
Others shared a photo online showing graffiti that read “Well done, Trump,” claiming it appeared after Soleimani’s death. Even if it was genuine, graffiti was nothing new – it had appeared on social media as early as 2018 and was therefore not related to this particular event.
Read more about the observers >> False news spreads online after the Soleimani killing
A black FBI agent arrested by mistake?
The year 2020 was marked by the murder of George Floyd, a black American, when he was arrested by white police in Minneapolis on May 25. His death sparked a wave of protests in the United States.
In this context, a video alleging wrongful arrest of a white FBI agent by white police was released in early June. The film shows that two policemen – who were later joined by three others – arrested a black man and handcuffed him. The arrested man continues to tell the police that they have mistaken him for someone else. The police eventually released him.
“What do you mean I look like him?”
His FBI agent status saved him, but imagine how many innocent black men are wrongly accused of serving life sentences for a crime they did not commit.
People find this “satisfactory”. This is HEARTBREAKING.pic.twitter.com/AsxRD0GpHU
– StanceGrounded (@_SJPeace_) June 1, 2020
According to the posts that shared the video, the police had actually mistakenly arrested an FBI agent and realized this when he showed them his brand. That is not the case. The scene actually took place a year earlier, in June 2019, in the city of Rochester in the same state of Minnesota. And the man was not an FBI agent. But his detention was a case of false identity.
Read the observers >> Minnesota police did NOT accidentally arrest a black FBI agent … But the man was wrongly arrested
False stories and doctored videos follow the Beirut blast
The double explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4 killed more than 200 people and injured nearly 7,000. Just days after the tragedy in the heart of the Lebanese capital, Internet users published videos trying to prove that the detonation was caused by war missiles. Other posts claimed that the shape of the cloud after the explosion showed that it was a nuclear attack. However, these claims were quickly discouraged by specialists.
Some vague videos claim to show evidence of a missile hitting the port of Beirut, claiming it was the cause of the explosion. Here is a quick side by side showing the original video at normal, 1/2 and 1/4 speed along with the “fake video”. pic.twitter.com/ND6vcaiPyq
– Jake Godin (@JakeGodin) August 6, 2020
This false information caused confusion among Lebanese authorities, who were still wavering on the origin of the explosion: Lebanese President Michel Aoun himself had raised the hypothesis of a bomb or missile, while the Lebanese government claimed that the explosion was triggered by the burning of a stock of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate .
Read the observers >> Incorrect information spread after Lebanon’s blast: Missile, drone, nuclear weapons?
Incorrect images of Australian wildfire effects
The massive fires that ravaged Australia for weeks in January 2020 killed more than 20 people and nearly 500 million animals.
On social networks, impressive images were spread, such as those from a family taking refuge under a jetty, a kangaroo rescued from the fires by a woman or a little girl holding a koala in her arms. But all these photos were taken out of context or Photoshopped.
For example, the caption in the image above of a woman rescuing a kangaroo from the fires is false. This original video was actually published on Instagram on January 1 by the editor-in-chief of the magazine InStyle after she visited a kangaroo reserve in Australia.
Read the observers >> Rescued koalas and kangaroos: five fake photos from Australia’s fires
Widespread electoral fraud during the US election?
The run-up to the US presidential election on November 3 was full of misinformation, from allegations of organized electoral fraud by the eventual winner and president-elect Joe Biden to misleading images claiming that hundreds of ballots were thrown in the trash. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the postal vote option was a popular choice. States such as New Jersey, Vermont and California opened absenteeism or post-voting more than a month before election day.
As the deadline approached, images of discarded ballot boxes in a California dump were spread on social networks by Donald Trump voters to support the notion that certain votes were not counted. But this statement is contradicted by Sonoma County officials. These were old, empty envelopes, from the election in November 2018, thrown in the recycling bin, as the law allows.
Read Observers >> Debunked: Viral Photographs Do Not Show Thousand Mail Votes in California’s Landfill
Fake images of Uighur persecution
From the end of 2019 to the beginning of January 2020, many videos probably circulated cases of torture, ill-treatment and arrests of China’s Uighur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang region. But many of these posts shared false claims.
For example, a video shared on Instagram showed three men, filmed on the ground, almost naked, whipped. The German account that published it indicated in the caption that the video portrayed Uighurs in China.
Screengrab of a video posted by @das_erwachen on Instagram on December 10th. The publication has since been removed. © Instagram
In reality, this video is from 2017 and filmed in Indonesia. It is difficult to know exactly what happened, but according to several Indonesian media, the film shows the beating of three teenagers suspected of theft.
According to the UN, almost one million Uighurs are being held in detention camps in the Xinjiang region. Alfred Erkin, a pro-Uighur activist, explained to the JowharObserver Team that these false images could discredit society’s struggle.
Read the observers >> How false images of Uighur persecution harm their cause