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Three examples of widely-shared misinformation about Afghanistan

Using OSINT techniques, Afghan Witness has verified multiple examples of inaccurate content in recent months.


16 Nov 2021

Over the past three months, social media has played a significant role in spreading inaccurate

information about events in Afghanistan.

While most of the claims could have been easily identified as false or inaccurate from basic research, this has not stopped several high-profile political and media figures sharing the content.

While it is difficult to distinguish misinformation from disinformation - the latter is deliberately deceptive, the former isn’t always - the majority of shares and engagement is likely to be from people who are unaware the information is incorrect, rather than those intending to deliberately deceive. The motive of the original posters or claimants on the other hand, is harder to assess.

Afghan Witness (AW) has been monitoring Afghanistan’s social media landscape since the Taliban takeover in August.

The following are some of the most interesting examples of inaccurate content that has spread since... 1. Claimed Pakistani fighter jet in Panjshir Valley, geolocated to Wales

On 6 September, a widely-shared video claimed to show a Pakistani fighter jet manoeuvring

in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, as the Taliban were taking over the area.

The footage fed claims that Pakistan was supporting the Taliban in their offensive against the National Resistance Front (NRF) which were holed up in the valley.

However, AW was able to geolocate the footage to ‘Mach Loop’ in Wales, a well known training area for the RAF.

Figure: Panorama screenshot from video claiming to be fighter jet in Panjshir Valley.

Figure: Satellite image of ‘Mach Loop’, Wales, showing commonalities with panorama screenshot of claimed Panjshir fighter jet.

This example is relatively mild in comparison to others AW have analysed in recent months...

2. Video of claimed Taliban kidnappings and killings actually from a movie

On 10 September, tweets from multiple accounts went viral with a video apparently depicting the Taliban kidnapping and killing civilians.

After investigation by AW, it was revealed that the video was a short clip from a movie about the Dasht-i-Leili massacre in December 2001, when 250-2000 Taliban prisoners were shot/suffocated in metal containers while being transferred from Kunduz to Sheberghan.

Figure: Original tweet and claim (left) alongside a screenshot from the movie (47:14)

3. Recycled footage of publicly displayed bodies

On 8 November, new footage surfaced (warning; graphic) claiming to show three men being hanged in Lashkargah, Helmand. The story was shared by renowned journalists and news outlets, alongside speculation as to why the individuals were hanged, ranging from suggestions they were civil activists to rapists.

Figure: Variation of online claims as to why the three men were hung by the Taliban.

After investigation by AW, the footage turned out to be from an incident in Herat on 25th

September, when the Taliban publicly displayed three men killed in the city. The incident was

covered by international media. The footage posted on the 8 November was new and from

an alternative angle, making it easier to pass off or misinterpret as a separate event.

Comparing the 'new' footage with verified footage of 25 September in Herat, we can identify

the same trucks, nasheed and a Taliban member on the third truck, enabling us to confirm it

was footage of the same event, and not from Lashkargah.

Images claiming to be Lashkargah, Helmand:

Figure: Screenshots of video being shared on the 8 November claiming to be Lashkargah.

Images from 25 September, Herat:

Figure: Screenshots of Video of Taliban driving 3 corpses around Herat on 25 September.

An image of the incident posted by BBC Persia depicts the same truck, further confirming the ‘new’ footage was from 25 September in Herat.

Figure: Geolocation of one of the public displays of the hung men. Compared to an image claimed to be Lashkargah, Helmand.

An official statement by Ziaulhaq Jalali, a Taliban district police chief in Herat, on the 25 September incident said the Taliban had saved a father and son who had been abducted by four kidnappers. He claimed the four alleged kidnappers were killed in a gunfight and their bodies had been taken to public squares around Herat to be displayed. This account of the incident could not be verified through OSINT.

As part of our work on misinformation, AW will continue to monitor social media activity, and when possible, to verify reports of incidents concerning Afghanistan.

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