October 13, 2023
Within hours of the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel Saturday, a tidal wave of propaganda and conspiracy theories flooded social media in an effort to shape the narrative – not only for the days to come but for the history books.
Let’s get a few things straight: The use of the term “Palestinian resistance fighters” is fiction. Hamas is a terrorist group. Gaza, the coastal enclave controlled by Hamas, is bordered by Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea.
How is it spreading? Purveyors of misinformation have gotten an additional boost from the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, which under new owner Elon Musk, has been boosting posts by accounts that pay for its blue-check subscription service, regardless of who runs them, and profiting off any posts that go viral regardless of whether they are true. Musk also eliminated many of the content moderation teams that once removed violent imagery from the platform. In addition, X accounts claiming to represent Hamas have posted hundreds of violent images and videos set to auto-play as soon as viewers scroll past them, as a way to stoke fears among Jews.
Who’s behind it and what do they hope to achieve? Hamas certainly. Iran, which funds Hamas, as well. But also Russia. All these actors want to fuel division, spread propaganda, sow antisemitism, chaos, and doubt, and cast Israel, which just suffered one of the worst terror attacks in history, as the aggressor.
Here are five examples of viral online content that are not based in reality.
Myth No. 1: “Palestinian resistance fighters capture Israeli commander Nimrod Aloni along with dozens of other Israeli soldiers as the resistance fighters attacked neighboring occupied towns and Israeli check posts near Gaza,” stated one Instagram post that received more than 43,000 likes.
Fact: After Hamas’ deadly invasion of southern Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip, the rumor that Nimrod Aloni, a top general in the Israeli army, was captured by terrorists spread quickly.
But a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces confirmed there’s no truth to this claim. Aloni was seen Sunday at a meeting of top Israeli military officials.
Myth No. 2: “BREAKING! Biden signs order to send $8 BILLION in Military Aid to Israel,” wrote one user who shared the memo on X.
Fact: As Israel formally declared war on Sunday, a memo on blue-and-white White House letterhead began making the rounds online. Allegedly signed by President Joe Biden, the memo authorized $8 billion in military aid to Israel.
But according to Sean Savett, a White House spokesperson, the memo appears to be a doctored version of an order by Biden calling for up to $400 million of war assistance for Ukraine. Much of the language resembles that July 25 missive, including the title: “Memorandum on the Delegation of Authority Under Section 506(a)(1) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.”
The U.S. has deployed a group of cruisers and destroyers and the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, carrying approximately 5,000 sailors and a deck of fighter jets. The Biden administration also will reportedly ask Congress to authorize additional support, on top of the more than $3 billion in annual military assistance Israel already receives.
Myth No. 3: A Hamas fighter was captured on camera shooting down an Israeli helicopter.
Fact: Viewed 230,000 times, the viral video that allegedly shows a Hamas terrorist shooting down an Israeli helicopter is actually a scene from the video game Arma 3, a realistic combat game. The same software company that made the game has created simulation training for the U.S. military.
Myth No. 4: Noa Argamani, a 25-year-old woman kidnapped from the music festival near Gaza on Saturday, has been murdered, burned alive in Gaza.
Fact: A video purporting to show Hamas burning an Israeli woman alive, purportedly Argamani, was actually recycled footage of a horrific incident filmed in the Guatemalan village of Rio Bravo eight years ago. The woman set on fire is not Noa Argamani. Because the video is so short, viewers don’t have much time to process that the girl is not Noa.
Myth No. 5: Russian President Vladimir Putin: "I am warning America. Russia will help Palestine and America can do nothing."
Fact: Two social media videos making the rounds feature Putin speaking in Russian, with captions in English translated as warnings to the U.S. to refrain from helping the Jewish state.
"America wants to Destroy Israel as we destroy Ukraine in past," the captions on one video state. "I am warning America. Russia will help Palestine and America can do nothing."
But that footage of Putin comes from a December 2022 meeting of Russia's Human Rights Council where Putin addressed the country's potential use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Another video purports to tell America to stay away too.
That video comes from a February 2023 event marking the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi German forces in the battle of Stalingrad during World War II.
Putin mentions Israel in neither clip.