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Home » Watch out for claims about ‘crisis actors’ in Gaza

Watch out for claims about ‘crisis actors’ in Gaza

This photo posted on Facebook in early November got a lot of attention. It shows what appears to be a dead person wrapped in a white sheet. But if you look closely, the person is texting. 

The caption says: “Have you even seen a dead person texting? Apparently in Gaza everything is possible!” 

The claim in this post is clear: Palestinians are exaggerating the devastation in Gaza and faking deaths.

But is this photo legit? Here’s how we fact-checked it.

Hamas is a political and military organization — regarded as a terrorist group by both the United States and European Union — that governs the Gaza Strip. On Oct. 7, Hamas launched an attack on Israel, beginning what is now the Israel-Hamas war.

Since then, online disinformation and propaganda have become rampant, including the spread of so-called “crisis actor narratives,” which claim that photos and videos of people killed in the war are not actually victims but are instead actors pushing a particular agenda. 

In an era of conspiracy theories and misinformation, it’s hard to find a news event that doesn’t have someone online claiming there is a little more to the story. The term “crisis actor” is used often. 

This phrase entered the national discourse in 2012 when a gunman entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 26 people. Almost immediately after the shooting, conspiracy theories began to formulate online that the shooting had been staged to get support for increased gun control. 

InfoWars, a right-wing conspiracy theory website, played a prominent role in spreading the narrative that victims of the Sandy Hook shooting were “crisis actors.” These conspiracy theories are entirely false, but that hasn’t stopped them from spreading. 

These sorts of claims have spread about other tragedies as well, including the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the shooting of U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and the wars in Ukraine and Syria

According to NPR, “Sometimes, the claim is that a real victim never existed. Other times, behind-the-scenes movie footage or images of unrelated events are presented as proof an incident was staged.”

But back to that post we showed you earlier that supposedly shows a “dead” Palestinian person using a cellphone.

To fact-check this claim, I did a reverse image search with TinEye, which brought up a fact check from Snopes. 

It said the photo, which dates back to Halloween 2022, is of a child in Thailand and had been used in various news stories about children’s Halloween costumes. 

This isn’t the only way to fact-check something like this. You can also do some lateral reading. This is when you do a keyword search, open multiple tabs and read across them to see what other credible sources are saying about the topic.

I searched the phrase “Gaza dead body texting” and added the words “fact-check.” This brought up an article from USA Today, which says basically the same thing as Snopes — that the photo is from a Halloween event in Thailand predating the war in Gaza. 

We rate this claim Not Legit as the photo predates the war in Gaza and is of a child in a Halloween costume rather than a fake victim of war. 

This “dead body texting” photo is just one of many that involve the crisis actor claim and have been circulating since the war began.

Here’s one I found on Facebook, which claims to show a body lying on the ground in Gaza surrounded by what looks like a camera crew. After a quick keyword search, I discovered that the video was on TikTok in April 2022, nearly a year before the invasion of Gaza. And apparently, the video is actually behind-the-scenes footage from a movie. 

And here’s one my colleague Zorian at the Teen Fact-Checking Network looked into and also found was false. These are not Palestinian people faking their deaths; they’re students participating in a demonstration at a university in Egypt 10 years ago.

False claims about “crisis actors” can be deeply damaging to victims and their family members. InfoWar founder Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who was behind many of the Sandy Hook crisis actor claims, was sued for defamation. Numerous witnesses testified about how they were forced to relive the tragedy as a result of years of continued harassment from people who believed Jones. 

In the end, Jones lost and was ordered to pay nearly $1 billion in damages to families and an FBI agent who responded to the shooting. 

So what is the takeaway from all this? It’s important to know that the crisis actor narrative crops up after many tragic breaking news events, including the current Israel-Hamas war.

Be aware that these false posts might use photos or videos out of context, so — as with anything you see on social media — it is important to fact-check before you share.

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