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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Dear Esther,

Welcome to The Daily Briefing, where we monitor misinformation narratives on social media platforms. If you’re a new reader, thanks for joining us!
An aerial view of buildings in Gaza destroyed by an Israeli air strike. (Reuters/Mohammed Salem)

The violence in Gaza and Israel

As violence in Gaza and Israel escalates following the forced displacement of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, misinformation is being shared to serve political goals. At least 83 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes this week, after Hamas fired rockets toward East Jerusalem following an ultimatum for Israel to stand down at two flashpoints in Jerusalem. Seven people in Israel have also been killed by rocket fire, officials said. 
A video circulated on TikTok shows a group of men carrying a “corpse” that moves, alongside the false claim that Palestinians are faking funerals to generate favorable media coverage. The claim, posted from an account run by a reservist in the Israel Defense Forces, has received hundreds of thousands of views. But the video is from March 2020 and shows a mock funeral in Jordan used to skirt lockdown restrictions, according to one debunk
Some videos that purport to show the militant group Hamas launching rockets into Jerusalem predate the current round of violence, and have been used to promote what rights groups say is a disproportionate use of force against Palestinians in Gaza. Some of these false videos have been shared by Israeli officials, including a spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which Twitter later labeled as manipulated media. That footage of purported rocket fire from Hamas was first posted on YouTube in 2018 and was reportedly shot in Daraa, Syria. 
At least one prominent pro-Palestinian account also shared highly emotive images on Twitter of children in Syria, falsely linking the photos to the deaths of children in Gaza. The original images were from the civil war in Syria and taken in 2013 and 2016.
Meanwhile, messaging apps have been used to incite violence. As Israeli NGOs documented, far-right groups used WhatsApp and Telegram to call for or organize violence against Palestinian residents in various Israeli cities, including Jerusalem. Platforms’ content moderation policies have also raised questions and criticisms. As NBC’s Middle East correspondent Raf Sanchez noted, Instagram mistakenly suppressed hashtags around IDF forces storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Subsequent reporting by BuzzFeed News attributed the restrictions to mistakenly associating Al-Aqsa — one of Islam’s holiest sites — with “the name of an organization sanctioned by the United States Government."
The scale and complexity of the violence in Gaza and Israel have made it difficult to document the full extent of misinformation and its real-world consequences. First Draft has a number of training materials on online verification to assist journalists and researchers. — First Draft staff
A mobile Covid-19 testing unit in London. (Reuters/Peter Nicholls)

Indian variant fuels UK lockdown conspiracy theories 

The rise of cases in the UK of the B.1.617.2 Covid-19 variant, first detected in India and apparently at least as transmissible as the B.1.1.7 Kent variant dominant in the UK, has sparked comments from experts that the UK's roadmap out of lockdown could be delayed. These concerns are, in turn, firing up longstanding anti-lockdown conspiracy theories.
Social media users are claiming that concerns over variants are a government fabrication to justify further lockdown measures. Ivor Cummins, an Irish wellness influencer and frequent source of misinformation, falsely said: “[UK Health Secretary Matt] Hancock admits that new variant strains provide their only excuse to keep the lockdown madness going: ‘we’ve simply run out of other nonsense excuses,’ he complained,” referring to a Daily Mail article in which Hancock warned that a new Covid variant that evades vaccines would pose the “biggest risk” to lockdown-ending plans next month. In a separate tweet to more than 125,400 followers, Cummins baselessly claimed that an “evil cabal are trying to prolong the nonsense,” referencing the “deep state” conspiracy theory. 
Scores of anti-lockdown users also claimed that the possibility of a lockdown extension was predictable. “Oh, here we go… ” TalkRADIO host Julia Hartley-Brewer, a frequent source of Covid-19 misinformation, said on Twitter. One social media user called variants “the governments ace up their sleeve” in keeping “the population fearful and paranoid and therefore easier to control.” Another claimed “the theatrics of Indian variant is pure pantomime.” In French-language spaces, one user who cited a Daily Mail article wrote: “At the rate of 5 new variants per year, we still have 38 years of masks and restrictions … .”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that the scheduled May 17 lifting of some restrictions in England will go ahead. An urgent SAGE meeting is being held today to assess the scale and risk of the Indian variant. — Lydia Morrish, Bethan John
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How do you label AI content? Read our latest series.
The EU may soon require that people are notified when artificial intelligence has manipulated something they’re viewing. We uncover the imaginative ways people are labeling the role of AI in their content, in the first of a two-part series.
  • A French conspiracy theory film about Covid-19 eluded content moderators. The “Hold up” video has been widely available on YouTube since its November release. It was taken down after Politico reached out to YouTube for comment.
  • South Africa’s parliament summoned Facebook over misinformation. It marks the latest country — and the first African one — to invite Facebook executives to a hearing over the platform’s failures to remove “harmful misinformation.”
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