Western media outlets showing violent videos broadcast from war-torn Syria should have a panel of experts to screen for possible fakes, said Jeff White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The panels would be useful, he said, because insurgent groups are using the Internet to broadcast their real and faked videos to Western media sources.
Fakery can be seen in “the little details that cause one to say, ‘Hey, wait-a-minute,” said James Jatras, an expert on jihadi strategies. “But by then the ‘massacre’ story has already done its work” because the videos have been picked up by TV broadcasters and have influenced U.S. public opinion.
The concern over video-fakery comes as news reports cast doubt on the much-touted allegation that the Syrian government massacred almost 100 civilians in the town of Houla last month.
The charge was undermined by a June article in German newspaper the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The paper cited Syrian sources who said that the massacre was committed by anti-government rebels seeking to blame the government. The victims were the family members of government officials and soldiers, said the sources, based at the Christian Monastery of St. James in Qara, Syria.
Insurgent groups post authentic and faked videos on Internet sites, such as YouTube.com and LiveLeak.com. Some of the videos are rebroadcast by TV networks.
On June 11, for example, Fox News repeatedly broadcast a short video that seems to show wounded civilians being rushed out of a building in Syria.
The video was posted on Liveleak.com with a caption reading, “As people try to flee the area, an occupied building takes an incoming rocket with a direct hit fired by Assad’s Syrian Army. Civilians rush to aid those killed or wounded inside. A small baby is also brought out, it is unclear if this child survived the impact.”
But the video may be faked.
The cameraman inexplicably focuses on the building even though there’s no shooting before the apparent missile strike. In fact, children are seen walking in the adjacent crossroads while a gunman directs traffic away from the building.
An internal explosion produces much dust, but no visible debris, and then produces two bright, brief flames on the rooftop, similar to Hollywood-style gasoline explosions.
A group of adjacent gunmen immediately run up to evacuate people from the building, and rush a sympathy-inducing baby and child past the camera, but without showing any evidence of injury.
A pickup truck quickly backs into the picture to serve as an ambulance, but a supposedly injured woman is carried past the truck towards the camera and a group of armed men waiting behind the camera.
“It looks suspicious … but it is impossible to say for sure without more context,” White said.
Another video shows a group of gunmen in Syria supposedly capturing a government soldier strolling through scrub. They theatrically surround him without interest or concern and march him to a nearby auto.
Other videos seem unstaged, including a video that shows a moving tank exploding into fragments when its on-board ammunition is detonated by an anti-tank weapon.
Jihadi groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Arab groups fighting Israel, have produced many staged videos and press events.
Several online videos show this so-called “Pallywood” — a play on “Palestinian” and “Hollywood” — production process in action, complete with faked wounds and faked shooting scenes.
In one egregious example of Pallywood fakery, an Israel drone recorded a mock funeral in 2002 where the supposedly dead man climbs back into his coffin after his pall-bearers stumble and drop him.