Al Jazeera Journalism Review

The irony of fake news - sometimes it serves to highlight injustice

Last week, the image of a blonde-haired Palestinian girl standing up to an Israeli soldier was wrongly credited as an image of a Ukrainian girl confronting a Russian soldier. The intention was to garner sympathy for Ukraine, but the actual consequence was to highlight international media's double standards when it comes to dishing out sympathy to victims of war and oppression

 

During the first few days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a video appeared on Tik-Tok purporting to show footage of a young Ukrainian girl confronting a Russian soldier and firmly telling him to “go back to your country”.

The eight-year-old, fair-skinned, blonde-haired "Ukrainian girl" was lauded as “courageous” and the video went viral, attracting millions of views and likes. 

But it was fake.

A few details should have given it away immediately. For one, the girl is wearing a sleeveless top in the middle of February and, more importantly, she is speaking in Arabic.

Fake news 2

In fact, the video is of an eight-year-old Palestinian girl, Ahed Tamimi, and it is old. Tamimi is now 23 years old and the treatment she has received by international media for her acts of rebellion in the West Bank has been mixed, at best.

Indeed, at 16, she was imprisoned for eight months after another video of her - this time slapping an Israeli soldier in the occupied West Bank - was publicised. She was released in 2018.

So what made people believe this image of her was, in fact, of a young Ukrainian girl "courageously" confronting a Russian soldier and therefore deserving of praise? Of course, it was the fact that she “looks like a Westerner” with her pale skin, blonde hair and blue eyes - just as many people in the Middle East do.

After that most recent video, claiming to be from Ukraine, went viral, some journalists start calling out it’s fakeness and correcting it, by sharing news pieces confirming that the girl was not Ukrainian and was, in fact “just” a Palestinian girl confronting Israeli occupation forces as other Palestinians have been doing for the past seven decades.

These corrections went viral as well. Some shared them to raise awareness about fake news and others to call out the Western double-standard sympathy-narrative. But the outcome was the same; the forgotten stories of Palestinians' struggle were seen and heard widely, and not just by those in whose neighbourhood they were taking place. 

Perhaps this image has even persuaded some international observers to question their previous perceptions of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation

 

Recent events in Ukraine have driven a huge amount of content - particularly visual - on social media platforms. 

So it is unsurprising, perhaps, that people looking for sensational content which will boost their follower numbers have resorted to posting old, manipulated or misleading images and information.

Compounded by state-backed propaganda, which actively seeks to distort narratives surrounding events such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this has left audiences sceptical about the truth of any type of content at all - whether from citizen journalists, political activists or even well-known, established media organisations.

Professional journalists will wait to verify content before reproducing any UGC (User Generated Content), and will fight the temptation to be swept along by the outrage or sensationalism sparked by it before confirming its authenticity. 

But, these days, calling out a piece of fake news can generate more interest than the original image or piece of information itself. 

This can be seen by the response to the posts countering the false information about the Ahed Tamimi video.

In this tweet, below, the journalist shared the New York Times piece about her, but only to confirm that she is not Ukrainian. It got more than 800 retweets with more than 4,000 likes. 

Fake news 3

Compare that to the tweet published by the New York Times back in 2018, on the day of Tamimi’s release from prison, which received only 10 percent of the engagement. 

Fake News 4

What this comparison tells us is that Tamimi's case was only revived because of the fake news around her story last week, promoting a narrative of resistance to oppression which was happening 3,000km (1,865 miles) away from her. 

The irony, of course, is that the real reason this story - “fake” news or not - has caught the interest of international media this time around is that, from a Western perspective, she “looks like us”. This has, once again, resurrected damaging notions - perpetuated by media coverage everywhere - of there being “deserving” and “undeserving” casualties of war and oppression.

The silver lining is that this case serves to demonstrate these double standards very clearly and has brought attention back to the plight of Palestinians. Perhaps it has even persuaded some international observers to question their previous perceptions of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.

I suppose we might be grateful for small mercies. 

Muhammad Khamaiseh is an editor at the Al Jazeera Media Institute

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera Journalism Review’s editorial stance

 

More Articles

When leaders can't take a joke, we must make fun of them all the more

The BBC’s decision to censor satire in future political panel shows at the behest of the UK’s new prime minister shows it is hardly different to any state-controlled media organisation operating under authoritarian regimes

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 7 Sep, 2022
A masterclass in propaganda - political vloggers in the Philippines

‘Independent’ political vloggers and influencers are being expertly harnessed by the new Marcos Jr administration for its own ends

Ana
Ana P Santos Published on: 22 Aug, 2022
When covering Afghanistan, what matters is the people

One year after the Taliban seized control of the country, the media must focus its attentions on the mounting humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan; the people are the broken heart of this story

Soraya Salam
Soraya Salam Published on: 16 Aug, 2022
Nigeria - a model for a free African media?

Journalism under military governments in Africa is under threat, but journalists can learn from Nigerian media’s experience of standing up to people in power

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 18 Jul, 2022
Journalism needs clear standards when it comes to ‘deplatforming’ 

Currently, 'deplatforming' of people with views considered hateful is applied in a haphazard way. This just adds to the problem of hate speech

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 6 Jul, 2022
‘Fake news’ laws are killing journalists

Countries which have introduced ‘digital security’ laws in the name of combating fake news are also seeing a rise in harassment and even murders of journalists

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 27 Jun, 2022
Journalists are murdered when governments fail to ensure a free press

Over the past four years, everyone I've known who has tried to investigate the operations of mercenaries in Africa has either been killed or injured in attacks

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 12 Jun, 2022
On the ‘treachery’ of translators

The nature of a journalist-translator’s job forces one to become a messenger mediating between nations and cultures. Our writer reflects on the responsibilities this brings

headshot
Bahauddeen Alsyouf Published on: 5 Jun, 2022
If it’s clear who is funding them, community radio stations can transform lives 

Community radio has begun to flourish in Zimbabwe in recent years. But for stations to truly support the communities they serve, it is imperative that they are transparent about who owns them

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 29 May, 2022
International media has abandoned Afghanistan

The international community will be vital in helping Afghanistan to survive Taliban rule - but it has to start with a change of approach by Western media

Sayed Jalal
Sayed Jalal Shajjan Published on: 22 May, 2022
Let’s help refugees escape from the media’s ‘Ghetto of Compassion’

We must not lump all migrants and asylum seekers together when we report about refugees - ignoring nuance doesn’t solve problems

Alejandro
Alejandro Luque Published on: 15 May, 2022
The occupation of Palestine is not a conflict of equal sides - media needs to start telling the truth

Western media's response to the killing of veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli forces in Palestine is shameful. Until the media starts reporting the truth about Israeli brutality in Palestine, the killing of journalists doing their jobs will continue

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 11 May, 2022
The US is on its way to criminalising journalism

Billed as a ‘super fact checker’, Joe Biden’s new ‘Disinformation Governance Board’ is the first step on this path

Martin Jay
Martin Jay Published on: 9 May, 2022
Beware of activist journalists - they won’t always tell the ugly truth

It is the job of journalists to report the full truth - even when that might cast the ‘good’ guys in a ‘bad’ light

Ilya
Ilya U Topper Published on: 25 Apr, 2022
Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act is criminalising journalism

Bangladesh has been quietly strengthening its laws curtailing freedom of expression - with dangerous results

Rokeya
Rokeya Lita Published on: 18 Apr, 2022
Moscow’s journalistic lights are dimmed, but their story needs to be told

Russia is waging a war on independent journalists who dare to question or contradict the official government line - we must do more to support them

Aidan
Aidan White Published on: 7 Apr, 2022
Why healthy democracies need news junkies

Studies show that news junkies are more likely to register to vote and be politically engaged, but they are not better at predicting future events

Justin
Justin D Martin, Krishna Sharma Published on: 3 Apr, 2022
We need more raw coverage of conflict zones to make people care about all refugees

Coverage of Ukrainian refugees has been more sympathetic because it is usually accompanied by images of the crisis they are fleeing

Tomasz
Tomasz Lesniara Published on: 27 Mar, 2022
Facebook is showing its double standards over freedom of speech

Hate speech is a bad idea. A good idea would be for platforms to show consistency in their content moderation, particularly when it comes to Palestine

A picture of the author, Abeer alNajjar
Abeer Al-Najjar Published on: 17 Mar, 2022
When women are being smeared - listen to what they are saying

Cassandra was cursed to always see the future, but to never be believed. For female journalists like Carole Cadwalladr, long dismissed as a 'mad cat lady', it’s a familiar tale

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 16 Mar, 2022
Zimbabwe’s Fourth Estate is under siege

With few job opportunities, harassment by the authorities and a global pandemic, the picture for balanced and truthful journalism is not a pretty one

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 13 Mar, 2022
‘You must know how to haggle!’ - racism in journalism starts in the classroom 

Even though I didn’t choose to, I quickly became that one ‘annoying’ journalist of colour who had to keep mentioning racism in my journalism school. It was humiliating and exhausting, to the point of nearly quitting

Azraa
Azraa Muthy Published on: 24 Feb, 2022
Human rights lessons from a ‘terrorist’ journalist

It has ever been the case that when a journalist reports crimes by a despot, militant group or even, these days, a so-called democratic state, he is liable to be labelled a criminal.

Clive Stafford Smith
Clive Stafford Smith Published on: 30 Jan, 2022
How should we talk about Pakistan?

How do journalists report accurately about a country which suffers sectarian violence without reinforcing Islamophobic tropes?

Haroon Khalid
Haroon Khalid Published on: 24 Jan, 2022