Conspiracy theories, attacks, and the Covid-19 epidemic are topics that many false news circulate in Iraq, especially on social media, that may cause tension in a country that has known decades of wars and crises, so the need to refute them has emerged.
In front of a large number of screens and behind their laptops, 3 employees in the Monitoring Department of the Media Department at the Ministry of Interior watch the huge amount of daily news that is broadcast on television and social media. Read also Witness- Already burdened with trouble.. Did Corona kill the Iraqi press?Tails and Joker .. This is how the soft war is going in Iraq
Their task is to identify the suspicious news, and transfer it to the rumors department in the department, which in turn coordinates with the official authority concerned with the published news to deny or confirm it, says the head of this department, Brigadier General Nibras Muhammad.
The department, in turn, publishes denial or confirmation data on its Facebook page, which is followed by more than 34 thousand people out of 25 million users of communication sites in Iraq in 2021, according to the “Data Portal” Center for Statistics.
Paradoxically, Facebook is the main source of fake news in Iraq, which often deals with “trends”, meaning everything that is popular. As around the world, the rumors also included conspiracy theories related to the coronavirus and vaccines.
One of the founders of Technology for Peace, which specializes in debunking fake news, who prefers to remain anonymous, explains that “there are hundreds of pages with different names circulating false posts” on the blue website in Iraq.
Many of the spread pages bear the names of news agencies and platforms, such as “Iraq Pulse”, and the other “news agency” of a region in the country. But they are not really licensed news agencies or media outlets.
Fake news turns into an “almost daily trend” as the founder of Technology for Peace explains.
Some of them are humorous and do not cause harm, such as the news of “a young man from Mosul marrying 4 girls in one day”, which was refuted by “Technique for Peace”, to show that the image used in the news is a propaganda for a beauty salon.
The motive for spreading other false news is to obtain more likes. When the burning tragedy of Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad occurred about a month ago, pages began dealing with false news about the burning of other health institutions to attract users.
On the other hand, other news “comes in the context of a certain trend, for example political,” as the founder of “Technology for Peace” explains.
Here, false news is no longer a source of joke only, but rather becomes a political propaganda tool that stems from organized campaigns electronically, in a country that experienced a bloody sectarian war between 2006 and 2008, three years after its exit from the war against the Islamic State organization.
The founder of Technology for Peace notes the existence of “organized campaigns on thousands of pages, especially Twitter, with political objectives regardless of the party” behind it, whether it is from the pro-Iranian factions, or from other parties, on which “millions of dollars” are spent.
Thus, “Iraq has become an arena for a struggle for fake news” between regional, international or internal parties, the same source explains.
In late August 2020, for example, sectarian rhetoric spread on Twitter and Facebook following rumors of the arrest of the owner of a car loaded with explosives in the predominantly Shiite southern Dhi Qar region of the country, and the promotion that he came from Tikrit in the north, which is predominantly Sunni.
On the other hand, other pages said that he is from Dhi Qar and belongs to the Popular Mobilization Forces. The discussion did not end until the official authorities denied the two accounts.
Following the Tayaran Square attack in the capital last January, organized campaigns attributed to technology for peace went out to “electronic armies” on the communication sites, accusing Riyadh of being behind the attack. Then I published a photo of a Saudi who was accused of being one of the suicide bombers involved in the attack.
A long way
This applies to news related to the early parliamentary elections scheduled for next October, as rumors about them have begun to circulate from now, such as talking about incorrect alliances or nominations.
In front of this, the Rumors Department of the Ministry of Interior promotes “field campaigns” by distributing leaflets to passers-by warning of false news and the legal consequences of publishing it on a regular basis, explains Brigadier General Nibras Muhammad, stressing that they are also cooperating with bloggers to spread awareness.
But these campaigns are not enough in a country where the official media was the only source of news and information before the US invasion in 2003, and the laws that punish them still date back to the era of the previous regime.
In the midst of this shortage, 24-year-old Abdullah, who, like others of his generation, has been browsing his phone for hours, is forced to check the news himself. “I don’t trust at first glance the news that I read, but I look for its source, whether it is governmental or otherwise,” he says.
The process of combating rumors requires more complex mechanisms, such as cooperation with social media companies.
There is a draft law to combat information crimes in the halls of parliament, which includes rumors and false news, but it raises controversy and “may undermine the right to freedom of expression in Iraq,” according to Human Rights Watch.