After Iran’s strike on two air bases housing US troops, false photos and videos spread online

A protester waves the national flag while demonstrators set fire to close streets near Tahrir Square during a demonstration against the Iranian missile strike in Baghdad, Iraq on Jan. 8, 2020. (AP)
A protester waves the national flag while demonstrators set fire to close streets near Tahrir Square during a demonstration against the Iranian missile strike in Baghdad, Iraq on Jan. 8, 2020. (AP)

Soon after news broke of Iran’s missile strike on two military bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq, false photos and videos claiming to show the attack started to spread on social media.

The speculation started on Twitter, where users shared old photos of unrelated airstrikes as if they had just happened. Then some of the misinformation jumped to Facebook, where users and pages published more out-of-context images and videos. Some videos also got traction on Instagram, where popular accounts got tens of thousands of views.

The photos and videos were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) Collectively, millions of users have viewed them.

On Jan. 7, Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two air bases in Iraq: Al-Asad and Erbil. The move was an act of retribution for the death of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an American drone strike Jan. 3. In an address to the nation Jan. 8, President Donald Trump said no Americans were killed or wounded during Iran’s attack. (We fact-checked his speech here.)

Below is a roundup of the top bogus images and videos we’ve investigated so far. Have a tip you want us to check out? Email [email protected].

(Screenshot from Facebook)

Old missile strike photos shared on Facebook

On Facebook, some users shared old photos of Iranian and Israeli missile strikes. We rated the posts False.

Two of the photos, which a popular Facebook page published Jan. 7, depict several missiles being launched from the foreground of a mountain range. One appears to show an explosion. They have been shared more than 15,000 times.

The photos don’t show the missiles that hit the Al Asad and Erbil bases in Iraq. Using reverse image searches, we traced the images to three old missile strikes by Iran and Israel.

One top photo depicts a 2018 strike by Iran against the Islamic State in Syria. Its source is the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Another photo shows a 2017 attack by Iran also against the Islamic State in Syria. It’s a handout that Iran’s state TV gave the European Pressphoto Agency.

A third photo depicts the impact of a 2019 Israeli missile strike in the Gaza Strip. Its source is the AFP.

Read more here.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

Popular Instagram account recycles old video

A widely viewed Instagram video claims to show the moment that Iranian missiles were launched against two United States military bases in Iraq. But it doesn’t — we rated the video False.

The video was posted Jan. 7 by @thesavoyshow, which describes itself as "Black American News/Satire/Media." It depicts several clips of what appear to be missiles flying through a night sky. The video has been viewed more than 128,000 times.

Using reverse image searches, we traced the source of the video posted by @thesavoyshow. It doesn’t show Iran’s Jan. 7 strike on military bases in Iraq.

The video depicts a 2018 missile strike by Iran against the Islamic State in Syria. It was originally aired by Iranian news agency Sima News and rebroadcast by several TV networks around the world, including Russia Today and Al Jazeera.

Read more here.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

Verified page with 1+ million followers shares old photos

One verified Facebook account called Kollege Kidd, with more than 1.3 million followers, posted three photos of what appear to be missiles and explosions. The images have been shared thousands of times, but they are False.

Like other visuals shared on social media after Iran’s strike, these photos were posted out of context. All of them depict old missile strikes, according to reverse image searches.

One photo, originally published by the European Pressphoto Agency, shows a 2017 attack by Iran against the Islamic State in Syria. 

Another photo was published by the Agence France-Presse and depicts the impact of a 2019 Israeli missile strike in the Gaza Strip.

A third photo shows a 2014 fire in the Gaza Strip impact after an Israeli missile strike. Its source is the Associated Press.

Read more here.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

Old artillery video repopularized on Facebook 

Other Facebook users shared an old video under the guise that it shows Iran’s recent attack on two United States air bases in Iraq. It doesn’t — we rated it False.

The video was posted Jan. 7 and depicts a rapid succession of missiles or rockets being launched into the air. It has been viewed more than 15,000 times.

We found the video on YouTube as early as November 2018. Other videos claimed it shows a Russian military exercise. While we could not independently confirm the origin of the video, the style of shooting depicted is consistent with other rocket launchers Russia has tested.

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