Russian MoD claims video game images are 'US operations in Syria'
The Russian ministry of defence has been caught distributing false images it claims are from recent American operations in Syria, but which in fact show scenes from a computer game and an old Iraqi military video.
The images, shared on the ministry's official Facebook and Twitter pages on Tuesday, are accompanied by a caption describing the pictures as an Islamic State convoy leaving the Syrian city of Abu Kamal, dated November 9 2017.
Russia claimed these pictures showed "irrefutable evidence" that the US-led coalition was working together with Isis troops "to promote American interests" in the Middle East.
A now-deleted Facebook statement went further, claiming the footage was captured by Russian drones on November 9.
However, all of the images can be traced to material posted online before 2017.
In the Facebook post, the Russian government claimed: "Last week, the #SyrianArabArmy supported by the Russian Aerospace Forces has liberated #AbuKamal.
"The operation ascertained facts of direct co-operation and support provided by the US-led coalition to the Isis terrorists."
Yet online sleuths quickly tracked the images to a series of different videos from the past two years.
The most glaring inclusion showed what appeared to be a military convoy, filmed from above in black and white.
Yet a reverse image search of the picture, which checks it against images stored in online databases, shows it was first uploaded as part of a promotional video for AC-130 Gunship Simulator, a mobile video game produced by Byte Conveyor Studios and uploaded to YouTube in March 2015.
"The @mod_russia uses images from a computer game as evidence the US is working with ISIS," wrote Eliot Higgins, a visiting research associate at King's College London and online investigations expert for the Bellingcat website.
"It's worth noting the Russians have literally and falsely accused the US of using fakes from video games, and now they've actually gone and done it themselves," he said.
"I see about a million people in my timeline have noticed the same thing."
Reverse image searches of the other pictures traced two to a video published to the Military.com website in July 2016, alleging to show Iraqi Army Aviation helicopters attacking IS convoys outside Fallujah.
Another picture was traced to a separate video claiming to show the same operation published on YouTube in June 2016 by RT, the Kremlin-backed broadcaster previously known as Russia Today.
Both the Twitter and Facebook posts containing the images have now been deleted. Copies were saved on the Internet Archive, however, which stores snapshots of web pages at set moments in time.
The posts comes as Russia's role in spreading disinformation around the world comes under increasing scrutiny in the UK and US.
Representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google recently presented evidence to a US Senate hearing about Russian intervention in the 2016 US election and on Monday Prime Minister Theresa May used her speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London to accuse Russia of "meddling" in elections to "sow discord in the West".
"[Russia] is seeking to weaponise information," she said.
"Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and Photoshopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions.
"So I have a very simple message for Russia.
"We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed."
Twitter users did not take long to see the funny side of the old pictures from the Russian ministry of defence, responding with clips from famous computer games as "evidence of CIA mind control" or commending the Russians on their "nice trolling".
The Russian ministry of defence has not responded to multiple requests for comment.