Digital 'sleuths' fuel misinformation after Iran strikes

Terrified onlookers crouch behind a wall as lights streak across the night sky in what self-proclaimed digital investigators claimed was footage of Iranian drones over Israel. But the video is months old, repurposed to sow misinformation.

Social media sites such as X, formerly Twitter, were swamped with misrepresented visuals after Iran launched an unprecedented wave of drones and missiles toward Israel at the weekend, exacerbating Middle East tensions during an ongoing war that has already seen a flood of misinformation.

Many of the falsehoods about the Iranian strikes were amplified by what researchers identified as accounts posing as "OSINT" — or open-source intelligence — investigators, feigning digital expertise to further blur the distinction between fact and fiction.

The trend, also prevalent in the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas conflict, highlights the potential for information chaos during a fast-unfolding crisis by just a handful of clout-chasing accounts, some of which appear to be monetizing misinformation on X.

"The fact that so much misinformation is being spread by accounts looking for clout or financial benefit is giving cover to even more nefarious actors," Isabelle Frances-Wright, director of technology at the nonprofit Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), told AFP.

"The corrosion of the information landscape is undermining the ability of audiences to distinguish truth from falsehood on a terrible scale."

ISD identified nearly three dozen false, misleading, or artificial intelligence-generated images and videos that claimed online to show the Iranian attack.

The posts received over 37 million views on X in the hours after Iran announced the strikes.

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