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Conspiracy theories, attacks, and the “Covid 19” epidemic, files under which many false news circulate in Iraq, especially on social media, may cause tension in a country that has known decades of wars and crises, which highlights the need to refute them. In front of a large number of screens and behind their laptops, three employees in the Monitoring Department of the Media Department of the Ministry of Interior follow the huge amount of daily news that is broadcast on television and social networking sites. Their task is to identify suspicious news and transfer them to the rumors department in the department, which coordinates in turn With the official authority concerned with the published news, as the head of this department, Brigadier General Nebras Muhammad, explains to AFP from his office, to deny or confirm it.
The department, in turn, publishes denial or confirmation data through its Facebook page, which is followed by more than 34 thousand people out of 25 million users of social media sites in Iraq in 2021, according to the “Data Portal” Center for Statistics. Ironically, “Facebook” is the main source of fake news in Iraq, which often deals with “trend”, meaning whatever is popular.
This was the case, for example, when an image spread on the grounds that it was the Chinese “Long March 5B” missile, which was lost earlier this month, in the skies of Iraq, to find out later that it was due to the year 2019 and had nothing to do with the missile. As worldwide, the rumors also included conspiracy theories related to the Coronavirus and vaccines.
One of the founders of Technology for Peace, which specializes in refuting false news, and who preferred to remain anonymous, explains that there are hundreds of pages with different names circulating false posts on the Blue site in Iraq. Many of the distributed pages carry the names of news agencies and outlets, such as “Iraq Pulse”, and another named “News Agency” for a region in the country, but in reality they are not news agencies or licensed media outlets. Fake news becomes “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 marries four girls in one day”, which was refuted by “Technology 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 get 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 specific trend, political, for example, as the founder of “Technology for Peace” explains. Here, fake news is no longer a source of joke only, but rather becomes a political propaganda tool stemming from electronically organized campaigns, in a country that witnessed a bloody sectarian war between the years 2006 and 2008 and four years after its exit from the war against ISIS. The founder of Technology for Peace notes the existence of organized campaigns on thousands of pages, especially Twitter, with political goals 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 false news, between regional, international or domestic parties, as he explains.
The rumors section of the Ministry of Interior reinforces “field campaigns”, by distributing leaflets to passers-by warning against false news and the legal consequences of publishing it periodically, as Brigadier General Nebras explains, affirming cooperation with bloggers of web pages to spread awareness, but these campaigns are not sufficient in a country where the means Official media was the only source of news and information before 2003, while the laws that punished them still date back to the era of the previous regime.
Amid this shortage, the 24-year-old Abdullah, who like other people of his generation browses his phone for hours, is forced to check the news himself. He tells Agence France-Presse from a Baghdad café: “I do not trust the news I am reading at first glance, rather I search for its source, whether it is governmental or otherwise.” The process of combating rumors requires more complex mechanisms, such as cooperation with social media companies.
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