Extreme weather clips from Romania and Italy falsely shared as 'Israel in October 2023'

The Israel-Hamas war has triggered a deluge of falsehoods online, and the scale and speed with which misinformation proliferated on social media is unlike ever before, according to researchers. In one example, clips that show extreme weather events in Romania and Italy racked up hundreds of thousands of views after they were passed off as the situation in Israel weeks after the outbreak of the war.

A Facebook reel -- showing people rushing to a public square followed by clips of heavy winds damaging buildings -- was shared on the social media site on October 20.

Text overlaid on the video, which has been viewed over 550,000 times, says it was filmed in Israel that day.

The post surfaced weeks after Hamas militants staged an unprecedented attack on October 7, which killed 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials.

Israel's subsequent aerial and land campaign in Gaza has killed nearly 15,000 people, according to Hamas officials, and rendered large parts of the territory's north uninhabitable.

A truce agreement that went into effect on November 24 has brought a temporary halt to fighting.

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken November 29, 2023

AFP has repeatedly debunked misinformation related to the Israel-Hamas war.

Experts say the conflict offers a grim case study of the diminished ability of prominent social media platforms to combat false information in a climate of layoffs and cost-cutting that have gutted trust and safety teams.

Similar posts featuring the clips alongside a similar false claim were also shared on Facebook here, here and here, and on TikTok here, here and here.

The clips, however, all predate the Israel-Hamas war and were actually filmed in Mexico, Romania and Italy.

Military parade

A keyword search on YouTube found the first clip -- showing people running from different directions towards an open space -- corresponds to the 1:46:17 mark of a livestream uploaded by a verified account called Webcams de Mexico (archived link).

The video was streamed on September 16, 2022 and according to Webcams de Mexico shows spectators for a military parade at the Zócalo Plaza in the capital Mexico City.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the clip shared with the false claim (left) and the YouTube livestream of the parade (right) with corresponding elements highlighted by AFP:

Screenshot comparison of the falsely shared clip (left) and the YouTube livestream of the military parade (right), with elements highlighted by AFP

Media organisations Mexico News Daily and Excélsior TV reported the parade on the same day to celebrate the country's Independence Day.

The location of the clip corresponds to Google street imagery of Zócalo Plaza in Mexico City (archived link).

Screenshot comparison of clip in the false posts (left) and Google Maps Street View of Zócalo Plaza (right) with elements highlighted by AFP

Damaged building

The second clip shows heavy winds pounding residential buildings. A reverse image search on Google found it earlier shared on TikTok on July 4, 2022 (archived link).

The TikTok post's caption says the video was filmed in Vâlcea in central Romania. An AFP journalist who speaks Romanian confirmed the language is spoken in the video.

Screenshot comparison of the falsely shared clip (left) and the video uploaded on TikTok (right)

Several Romanian news outlets reported here, here and here that a powerful storm struck the town of Râmnicu Vâlcea on July 4, 2022 (archived here, here and here).

AFP has geolocated the building shown in the clip at the Boulevard Tineretului 3 in Râmnicu Vâlcea in Romania (archived link).

Screenshot comparison of the falsely shared clip (left) and the same building in Romania shown on Google Maps (left) with corresponding elements highlighted by AFP

Tornadoes in Italy

Further reverse image and keyword searches found the third and fourth clips -- both showing tornadoes -- were filmed in Italy before the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

The third clip has appeared in a September 22, 2023 report by the Italian science website MeteoWeb (archived link).

According to the report, a tornado struck Rho and Pregnana Milanese towns in Milan that day (archived here and here).

Screenshot comparison of the falsely shared clip (left) and the footage uploaded by MeteoWeb (right)

The European Severe Storms Laboratory (ESSL) that conducts research on severe weather in Europe recorded a tornado hitting northern Italy on September 22.

A map linked in the ESSL's database traced the direction of the tornado crossing Rho and Pregnana Milanese (archived link).

The building and several structures in the clip correspond to images geotagged on Google Maps of a packaging company in Pregnana Milanese as shown in the screenshot comparison below, with the similar elements highlighted (archived here and here).

Falsely shared clip (left), geotagged photo of building showing the same company logo (right-top) and areal view of the building on Google Maps (right-bottom)

The fourth clip circulated as early as September 20, 2021 on Facebook and YouTube here, here and here (archived here, here and here).

Italian news outlet Corriere di Bologna TV reported serious damage in the Carpi airport in the province of Modena on the same day (archived link).

Screenshot comparison of the falsely shared clip (left) and the video published by Corriere de Bologna TV (right)

Using clues from the video's caption, AFP found the video was taken in Carpi airport in northern Italy.

Google Maps imagery taken in February 2021 shows the corresponding steel x-bracing near the glass door of the building where the video was filmed. It also shows two identical hangars built right across the building (archived link).

Screenshot comparison of the clip in the false posts (left) and the Google Maps imagery of Carpi airport (right), with similar elements highlighted

There were no reports of severe storms on October 20, 2023 on the website of the Israel Meteorological Service (archived link).

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