A viral video faking reality
On November 10th 2014, this one minute clip was uploaded on YouTube. The video showed a sniper shooting in a Syrian war zone. Suddenly, a boy who seems around 8 years old runs towards a destroyed car and he pretends to be dead for a few seconds until he gets up again and rescues a younger girl with whom he runs out of shot avoiding numerous bullets. A day later, with already 200 000 views, several news websites reported the event, such as The Telegraph,Independent, Metro, Daily Mail, Fox News, The Guardian. Most of them made clear that they could not verify it, but mention that according to experts there was no reason to doubt its legitimacy. Besides, some of those websites were speculating about the place were it had been filmed, suggesting the town of Yabroud, near the Lebanese border. By November 14th, the video had gone viral, reaching 5 million views. That same day, an announcement from a Norwegian director came out on Twitter, claiming that the video had been faked:
The video had first been uploaded to a newly created YouTube account but barely received views. When they added the word “hero” to the title the channel “Shaam News Network”, which features mainly raw war footage from citizens in the Middle East, reuploaded it and that was when it started generating a huge impact. The actual video is now unavailable since the authors made it private. Nonetheless, today the clip keeps circulating the Internet portrayed as real.
The fact that even though its authenticity was never verified, hundreds of thousands of people, including the media, immediately believed it was, makes this video especially relevant in comparison to other fake news.
The setting -actually located in Malta and already used for filming “Troy”or “Gladiator”- looked exactly like any of the real images of the civil Syrian war we watch everyday on TV. Besides, the bad quality of the camera (a mobile phone) and the way it was filmed, indicate it is an amateur video, which makes more believable that the author was in such dangerous area since he surely could be a citizen (especially after being uploaded to Shaam News Network channel). This is reasserted by the shouts that can be heard close to the camera which translated from Arabic mean “God is great”. All these characteristics made the clip extremely realistic and credible.
Surprisingly, what probably made the video viral is also the only reason why it could seem false, as explained in the later press release: “[…] the children surviving gunshots was supposed to send small clues that it was not real”. It is quite shocking the way both children avoid the bullets which surround them during the initial run of the boy and their final escape. Nonetheless, it is quite likely that the authenticity of the video would have remained covered if their authors would not have admitted the truth. However, in these times of war, even though we are watching it from a safe home, seeing this kind of events in which people show so much solidarity makes the whole world have faith in humanity and a little hope in a worldwide peaceful future. We definitely demand watching this kind of events, although most of the times we do it in the form of fiction (films are filled with heroic characters and acts). Therefore, our opinion is that this is what made this video successful, as people everywhere just want to believe.
The video ended up becoming an extremely controversial issue. Although its aim was to increase awareness on children affected by war, its response was mainly negative. In an open letter addressing the director, journalists and activists from many countries condemn the clip, claiming, for instance:
“This film undermines the work and the people who continue to document crimes against humanity”.
In addition, other people consider there is no need to make fiction from the misery of children, since it is a reality in places like Syria and can only do the opposite effect to the one desired. A Syrian-Dutch journalist states:
“It introduces doubt into any story that has come out of Syria over the last few years as well as anything that will come out in future. People on both sides will use this to their advantage. And if people are unable to tell the difference between fact and fiction they will quickly lose interest in a conflict that is causing untold misery.”
Finally, another interesting quote on the controversy, coming from Fred Adams, of Human Rights Watch:
“By releasing a fake video, Klevberg (the director) has made it easier for war criminals to dismiss credible images of abuse.”