Israeli joke taken seriously by Hamas morphs into fake news

May 21, 2024 by Sveta Listratov
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An Israeli joke about Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s plane crash morphed into fake news after the Hamas terror group’s social media took it seriously.

Social media icons. Credit: TY Lim.

Raisi, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and six other passengers were killed when their helicopter crashed in a mountainous area of northern Iran in foggy conditions on Monday.

Sometime after the crash, a joke circulated on Hebrew social networks that the person responsible was a Mossad agent named “Eli Copter,” a play on the Hebrew word for the helicopter.

“That began as a humorous online post and quickly spiraled out of control,” social media expert Shlomit Erdynast explained to The Press Service of Israel. Erdynast manages social media accounts for several Israeli non-profit organizations.

The joke was picked up by one of Hamas’s Telegram channels, which wrote, “It is said that the helicopter pilot was a Mossad agent named Eli Kopter.” The channel in question has more than 136,000 followers and is widely cited in the Arab world.

The joke made its way into the Israeli media, where Daniel Haik, a political analyst for a French-language on i24 News, factually reported it on the air.

“The pilot was a Mossad agent with the name ‘Eli Copter.’ It’s not currently clear whether this is true or not, but that’s the rumor going around,” said Haik.

A London-based Arabic language website called Al Sabah Almisry stated: “Hebrew media quoting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu reported that Mossad agent Eli Copter and F16 pilot Avi Ron carried out the operation to shoot down the Iranian helicopter and now returned to their base in Israel.” The name “Avi Ron” is another play on words which in Hebrew refers to a small light plane, and Netanyahu made no such quote.

The incident prompted further discussion on Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter, about the responsibility that news services and social media users have about sharing unverified reports, being sceptical of sources, and satire.

“Hamas Telegram has picked up a joke that Raisi’s pilot was a Mossad agent called Eli Copter and is pushing it as fact,” tweeted Ari Hoffman. “These are the same geniuses that the mainstream media has been getting casualty numbers from for 7 months and publishing them without verification.”

Erdynast told TPS-IL, “Many young people ask me, ‘social media is the real journalism these days, right?’ Well, I think we got a very good answer to this question yesterday. Taking information from an official terror group social media account, where a Hamas activist writes something up and it spreads all over the media, is not proper, fact-checking journalism.”

“It’s really embarrassing — in this day and age, we are talking about fake news all the time — to be so unaware. Hamas social media groups have no credibility. It’s obvious that if you are a journalist who follows their accounts to use the unchecked information, you are professionally not reliable as well,” Erdynast said.

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