Home Human Rights Journalism Syria: Disinformation in the Context of Deir ez-Zor Unrest

Syria: Disinformation in the Context of Deir ez-Zor Unrest

Military operations were accompanied by misleading reporting using old and fake visuals inciting violence, threatening civil peace

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On the evening of 27 August 2023, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced through its internet accounts and media outlets in northeastern Syria, the launch of Operation Security Reinforcement in Deir ez-Zor aiming at eradicating the Islamic State (also known as IS or Daesh) terrorist cells, thwarting their potential attacks, and pursuing criminals responsible for perpetrating injustices against the local population. It also aims at tracking down smugglers who exploit the populace’s livelihoods.

Meanwhile, local social media accounts and media outlets affiliated with the Deir ez-Zor Military Council of the SDF published a video showing Jalal al-Khubai, brother of Ahmed al-Khubail (better known as Abu Khawla), the commander of Deir ez-Zor Military Council. Jalal exclaimed in the video that the SDF had besieged them in the Khashman neighbourhood in al-Hasakah and arrested the Emir Ahmed al-Khubail from its al-Wazir base and thus called upon members of Al-Aqeedat clan to encircle all of the SDF headquarters in Deir ez-Zor to pressure it to release Ahmed. Jalal threatened to respond strongly if his demands were not met and warned that the battle was no longer between the SDF and Arab tribes but between the Kurds and Arabs.

The two sides engaged in hate speech and disinformation, including publishing old images and videos unrelated to the conflict or of other conflicts, as well as dismantling fake news on social media and media outlets. This media incitement fueled the hostilities and widened the communal rift, posing serious threats to civil peace, especially between the Arabs and Kurds.

Less than 24 hours after the spread of al-Khubail video, which was verified true in relation to the killing of the commander of Deir ez-Zor Military Council and some of its members, a video spread showing military engagements allegedly between the SDF and Arab tribes in al-Ma’amel area in the north of Deir ez-Zor. However, it turned out that the video was first published on the internet by Yemeni accounts in March 2021, including the Yemen Today YouTube Channel, the verified Alhadath Yemen Facebook page, and several other local Yamani social media accounts and pages.

The present report is the result of cooperation between Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), True Platform team, specialized in verifying information and analyzing hate speech and Suwar Magazine. The report was built on close monitoring of the Deir ez-Zor unrest and it aims to highlight misleading information spread through online accounts and websites affiliated with the conflicting parties.

The spread of false or misleading information is rampant among various media outlets and social media accounts. This is particularly true regarding updates on the developments on the ground and the results of confrontations, often with the aim of portraying one side as superior to the other. This further endangers the fragile peace in the area. The ongoing battles have already caused military and civilian casualties from both sides, as well as internal displacements.

Moreover, media incitement and disinformation have created deep-seated biases among the public towards the conflicting parties. This was done by exploiting the various narratives that were used to depict the conflict, most notably the ethnic war between Syrian Arabs and Kurds. Furthermore, the media malicious took advantage of the tensions that preceded the conflict, caused by the poor governance and corruption of military and civil administration authorities in the area, which was reflected in ignoring the populace’s demands. It is important to remember that eastern Deir ez-Zor has been hit hard by the deterioration of services in all areas, including education and health. This has resulted in repeated protests from locals.

The present report was built on the outcomes of the monitoring and verification operations conducted since the conflict’s onset. We reveal in this report 16 videos and images found to be misleading. Most of these materials were old and unrelated to the recent conflict in Deir ez-Zor. Some pro-opposition media outlets used these materials in the context of reporting on the unrest in Deir ez-Zor wrongly or intentionally.

The research team utilized multiple audit methods to ensure accuracy, including reverse image and video search technology on significant search engines such as Google. They also searched social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram. In some instances, geographical identification technology was also used and linked with satellite images.

It’s important to remember that a lot of misleading information is initially published on personal or public web pages, some are fake. We will not mention every instance of disinformation that we find in order to prevent unintentionally promoting materials that could incite violence, hate, or killings. STJ has released a report on hate speech related to the recent unrest in Deir ez-Zor.

Here are some of the misleading publications.

To read the full report (35 pages), click here

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