Flagging false news: Misinformation case study from the Iran-Iraq earthquake

A failure by numerous major news organizations to verify the location of user-generated content resulted in the spread of false information following this month’s Iran-Iraq earthquake.

Outlets reported an inaccurate location of the below video:

It was stated as Darbandikhan in Iraq by The New York Times, NBC, Deutsche Welle and USA Today. Ahvaz in southern Iran was stated as the location by The Guardian.

Other outlets, including Euronews, Al Jazeera and Huffington Post reported the general location as the Iran-Iraq border region. RT did likewise in the initial aftermath.

RT Digital found the exact location to provide an essential detail.

With a few simple verification steps, we found the exact location of the video — a process overlooked by numerous other news organizations.

Here are some of the findings from our debunk investigation…

Inconsistencies reported by some news organizations went beyond a false location.

Iranian news network IRINN was credited by The Guardian as the source of the video, while Kurdish news organization Rudaw were credited by several other outlets.

We spoke to the journalist credited by Rudaw, who informed us that the video was filmed in Chwarta — a town just outside the widely-attributed location of the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah.

The journalist provided us with coordinates for Chwarta but advised us that he did not know the name of the cafe visible in the video.

We scanned for visual traces on Google Earth and Google Maps. We found no conclusive signs.

Using Instagram we searched for users uploading from Chwarta and opened dialogue with them. We asked them if they recognized the cafe.

We were advised by a local source on the ground that the video was not filmed in Chwarta but in a nearby town called Tagaran.

Tagaran is 80km from the location mentioned by The New York Times, NBC, Deutsche Welle and USA Today and nearly 800km from The Guardian’s reported location of Ahvaz in southern Iran.

We scanned Tagaran for visual traces on Google Maps, Google Earth and Wikimedia and found the Qandax Cafe.

We searched for a digital footprint and found its Facebook and Instagram account.

The cafe has uploaded numerous images to its Facebook account that match the interior we see in the video. There is also a promotional video uploaded to Facebook, which we used to corroborate matching elements.

Comparing against images shared to the cafe’s Instagram account, we could also match interior elements. The cafe uploaded the footage to its Instagram account.

Using Snapmaps to view Snapchat Stories from Tagaran, we found an upload filmed in a cafe resembling the one seen in the video. However, no Snapcode was provided with the video, preventing us from contacting the uploader.

Without the uploader’s permission, we can not provide a screengrab of the video. We have, however, saved the video to our own archive to bolster our investigation.

Content tagged to Tagaran via SnapMaps

We contacted the cafe using a number of displayed on its active Instagram account.

The source of the video is the Qandax Cafe in Tagaran, Iraq.

We verified all the details, even the small ones matter.

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