by Sam Wineburg, Professor of Education and (by courtesy) History, Stanford University
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, 2023.
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.