Video of Georgia demonstrators blocking water cannon falsely linked to US campus protests

As pro-Palestinian protests rocked US college campuses, footage of protesters fending off a water canon surfaced in social media posts that claimed it showed students forming a human wall against the police. However, the video was in fact filmed in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, where tens of thousands have gathered against a controversial "foreign influence" bill. 

"Protesting US students face water cannon. Fearlessly using their bodies as a new defence," read simplified Chinese text superimposed on the video posted on Weibo on May 5, 2024.

The footage shows water blasting through a gate onto a group of people, drenching them as they form a human wall against it.

"The police used water cannon and they formed a human wall. Then The Internationale (socialist anthem) played in the background!" the Weibo caption read.

It features the hashtags #America, #Israel and #Palestine.

Screenshot of the false post, captured on May 6

Similar posts spread on various platforms, including X and Chinese video-sharing platform Bilibili.

The posts surfaced as pro-Palestinian protests swept US college campuses, where authorities appeared to be running out of patience and police began to push back forcefully.

Demonstrators have gathered on at least 40 US university campuses since April 17, often erecting tent camps to protest the soaring death toll in Gaza and call for a ceasefire.

They are also calling for colleges to sever ties with Israel and companies that they say profit from the conflict.

Gaza's bloodiest-ever war broke out following Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures. Militants also seized some 250 hostages.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Georgia protests

A reverse image search on Google found the video in an X post that said it showed a protest in Georgia -- not the United States.

"Rugby is our game, Georgians say. A scrum formed by protesters defending each other against water cannon used by riot police last night in Tbilisi," reads the post from May 2, 2024  (archived link).

The video shared in false social media posts (left) was flipped horizontally from this video (right):

Screenshot comparison between the image taken from a false Weibo video (left) and the video shared on X (right)

A man in the video can be seen wearing the Georgian national flag on his back at the 18-second mark.

Screenshot of the video showing a man wearing the Georgian flag, highlighted by AFP

Mass anti-government protests have gripped the Caucasus country since early April, when in a shock move billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili's ruling Georgian Dream party brought back a "foreign influence" bill likened to repressive Russian legislation.

If passed, the bill would require NGOs receiving at least 20 percent of foreign funding -- encompassing virtually all groups in the sector -- to register as acting under "foreign influence".  

Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered on the evening of May 1 outside parliament, according to an AFP reporter on the scene.

Photos posted on X by Belarusian media outlet Nexta show a similar scene outside parliament on April 17  (archived link).

"Several hundred people have gathered on Zakaria Chichinadze Street, at the side entrance to the Parliament," the post read.

The scene in the video shared in false social media posts (below-left) is similar to a photo in Nexta's X post (below-right).

Screenshot comparison of the video shared on X (left) and one of Nexta''s photos (right), with similarities highlighted by AFP

AFP also published similar footage of riot police using water cannons to break up protesters.

AFP has previously debunked other misinformation about pro-Palestinian protests here, here and here.

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