Within minutes of a deadly blast at a Gaza hospital on Tuesday, false and misleading claims about the incident spread across the web.
Palestinian authorities and medical providers reported that the explosion, which took place at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, killed hundreds of people, though the exact figure is unclear.
No one took credit for the strike: Gazan officials blamed an Israeli airstrike, and Israel faulted a misfired rocket from the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The United States has said its current assessment is that “Israel is not responsible.”
What is clear, according to reporting on the ground, is the grisly outcome: Numerous civilians who’d sought safety at the hospital amid Israeli airstrikes elsewhere in northern Gaza — many of whom were outside at the time of the blast around 7pm local time — were instantly killed, and many others were severely injured. Other area hospitals, low on supplies and overwhelmed by the scale of the explosion, struggled to respond to the catastrophe.
Details beyond that are scarce, due in large part to the extreme danger and logistical constraints for reporters in Gaza. In their place, OSINT — or “open-source intelligence” — analysts on the web have begun to comb through photos and footage of the blast radius and other details from the scene, with varying interpretations.
And as the scale of the bloodshed unfolded, political actors worked to set the narrative on social media.
“Well this is, in absolutely professional terms, a clusterfuck,” one experienced analyst wrote of the discourse.
Various supporters of Israel, for example, circulated photos and video footage that they claimed showed a failed Gazan rocket launch aimed at Israel — only for fact-checkers to point out that the footage was old.
The Israeli government’s first post on X blaming a “failed” enemy rocket for the hospital explosion initially included a different video that purportedly showed the stray rocket. The post was later edited to remove the video, though Israel subsequently posted other footage that it asserted showed the same explosion.
Some commentators blamed (or credited) different sides at different times: Israeli influencer Hananya Naftali initially wrote on X that Israel had struck a “Hamas terrorist base inside a hospital in Gaza.” He later deleted that post and blamed Reuters for “falsely stat[ing] Israel struck the hospital.” (Many outlets, including Reuters and The Associated Press, whose story HuffPost republished, initially blamed the attack on Israel, citing Gazan officials.)
Both sides of the conflict shared false information: A widely shared screenshot purported to show an Israeli government Facebook page claiming credit for the blast — but the government denied ever publishing such a post and said the account was fraudulent. Others, including fact-checkers, noted that the account in the screenshot was not verified on Facebook.
Separately, an account that blamed Hamas for the attack was revealed to be fraudulent only after briefly creating widespread confusion on X.
The account, “@_Faridakhan,” claimed to be an Al Jazeera journalist — something the news organisation refuted. But in numerous posts on Tuesday, the account claimed to have personally seen “that it was Hamas ‘Ayyash 250’ Rocket” that hit the hospital.
The account’s claims were immediately suspicious: Prior to Tuesday’s activity, old X posts from @_Faridakhan were mostly concerned with Indian politics and cricket. But the posts quickly spread across X, shared by people including a former New York City council member.
One conservative American group, Secure America Now, republished the fraudulent account’s claims alongside the year-old video falsely purporting to show the hospital strike. The post is still live and has been viewed 60,000 times, according to X’s metrics.