Within hours of witnessing an escalation in violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the South this past weekend, the twitterverse and blogosphere were suddenly flooded with images accusingly depicting the damage caused by one side against the other.
However, as the battle between the two sides played out on the ground, a similar battle played out online with pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli activists quickly managing to discredit each other by uncovering fake, doctored or simply old photos and videos taken from previous conflicts or events.
In one incident, a local UN Official, Khulood Badawi (@KhuloodBadawi) from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs tweeted: “Palestine is bleeding. Another child killed by #Israel... Another father carrying his child to a grave in #Gaza,” with a link to a photo of a blood-covered Palestinian girl being carried by a man.
Within hours, however, pro-Israeli online activist Avi Mayer (@AviMayer) uncovered that the photo was actually taken at least five years ago and most likely had nothing to do with any Israeli military action in the strip.
“EXPOSED: UN Media Official Responsible for False Photo Tweet” read a followup headline blogged late Monday night by pro-Israeli watchdog organization Honest Reporting, which gave a full account of how the photo had been used to misrepresent Israeli actions this time around in Gaza and pointing out that it had already been re-tweeted by hundreds of people around the world.
“Powerful images such as these have a deep impact on public opinion,” wrote Honest Reporting’s CEO Joe Hyams. “It is abhorrent that a UN employee working for a body concerned with humanitarian welfare would have more concern for manipulating public sentiment than a true desire to protect innocent human life. Badawi cares more for the lie, than for life.”
He called on the UN to immediately remove Badawi from her position at the UN office, where she works as an information and media coordinator. Hyams’s call was echoed by a huge volume of Twitter users and by Monday night Badawi had ceased posting on Twitter.
Attempts by The Jerusalem Post to obtain a comment from the UN on Tuesday were unsuccessful and messages to Badawi received no response.
Meanwhile, Palestinian blogger and Twitter user Diana Alzeer (@ManaraRam) responded to criticism against her for tweeting the same erroneous photo first with an apology that she had been unaware the image was outdated, but with a very long blog commentary pointing out that pro-Israeli activists had similarly posted old photos and videos of rocket attacks.
In one case, she highlighted a Twitter post by IDF spokeswoman Avital Leibovich who wrote: “A barrage of Grad rockets ranging 40 km., fired by Islamic Jihad into #Israel” with a link to a video that – Alzeer pointed out – was originally posted last October.
Leibovich told the Post on Tuesday that she had only used the video to highlight the ongoing “actions of terror groups in Gaza.”
“Launching a rocket does not differ whether it happened in November, July or now,” she said. “These organizations posted these clips themselves, maybe to recruit new people or boost moral, I don’t know but I never claimed that the events took place in the last few days.”
Leibovich said that she views posting messages on Twitter in the same way she sees giving a statement to the media and would never post something without thoroughly checking it first.
“Today there were reports of rockets being fired that contained white phosphorous, I would never post anything about that until it had been properly checked and I am 100% sure I know it happened,” she said.