CAIRO - 27 September 2020: The sheer volume of ‘fake news’ propagated via mainstream and social media has made it almost impossible for most of us to distinguish fact from fiction these days. And telling people to take everything they read with a grain of salt, or even shouting out-loud that certain news is simply fabricated is unfortunately not effective enough.
So eventually, and amid a whole heap of wrongful information disseminated by troll campaigns and flawed journalism, Egyptian Media Group has decided it was about time to get creative in tackling the incessant disinformation about Egypt — especially those delusional ‘protests’ that seem to always disappear in thin air—
Anti-regime protests reignited in Egypt (or did they really?)
A short video of Egyptian protests calling for the incumbent President Abdel Fattah El Sisi to step down has gone viral since Friday. It supposedly coincided with the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood’s rallying for anti-government demonstrations on the so called ‘Friday of Rage’ (25 Sep., 2020).
“The people of Nazlet El Semman call for Sisi to step down in an evening protest, shouting 'Leave Sisi'," an Al Jazeera Facebook post read on Friday, along with a screenshot of the video. Al Jazeera’s news briefs throughout the day also repeatedly aired the video, as their evidence of intense demonstrations throughout the country...
The same video shots were further broadcast on pro-Muslim Brotherhood channels such as El-Sharq; posted on ‘opposition’ social media pages like Rasd; and shared and retweeted again and again by media anchors and lay audience. Some individuals even took pride in participating in the protests.
"Yesterday, on Friday, I could not keep myself from participating in the Friday of Rage… I decided to go to Al Haram; and from there to Nazlet El Semman and I participated in the protests at night. It is the best day of my life because I felt free…,” tweeted a ‘political activist’ on Saturday.
Keep Calm… You’ve Been Pranked
The propagated video clearly shows banners with the correct date; Egyptian-looking protestors shouting against the regime; and the buildings do resemble an Egyptian neighborhood that would fit with the announced location. It seems authentic; after all, it is a perfect setting!
Yet indeed, that is all it was… a set scene meant to expose — with unarguable evidence— the lack of professionalism in a number of news channels, as well as the imposter and fraudulent tricks used by both ‘professional’ media hosts and social media trolls who went so far as to claim they took part in a non-existent protest.
Let’s rewind a bit… So what actually happened there?
The protests scene was produced and shot by the Egyptian Media Group in the Media Production City in Giza; and they then sent it to the news channels to see what they would do with it. “We wanted to see if they would send someone to Nazlet El Semman to check. … Everything that you see is fabricated and this is the result,” said Khaled Salah, Editor in Chief of Youm7 newspaper as he revealed the prank in an evening show on CBC Extra News on Saturday.
Unfortunately, as well expected, some channels did fall for it, and built a whole story around the prank protests. “Protests continue in Egypt for the sixth consecutive day, denouncing the economic conditions and destruction of houses,” Al Jazeera anchor said in a Friday news brief, while shots from the video were aired in the background.
Commenting on the instance, journalist and digital media expert Khaled El Baramawy said, “the lies that the Egyptian Media Group has published prove that we should not call Al Jazeera or its likes media channels,” stressing that the fabrication that has been exposed is a crime against everyone working in the media field. He further added that the Brotherhood-affiliated channels and those supporting terrorism do not follow any rules of fact-checking or documentation for what they publish, urging Egyptian and Arab citizens to revise their perception of such channels.
The news channels that fell for the trap without authenticating the video are all affiliated with the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and have been internationally linked to terrorist organizations. They have also been known for their explicit attacks on the incumbent Egyptian regime, and for a number of other instances of ‘disinformation’ over the past few years. They include El-Sharq, Mekameleen, and Al Jazeera Mubasher, which all — more or less— share the same editorial policy and storytelling techniques.
Watch out for ‘fake news’
Egyptians are known for their sense of humor; but this one is more of a bittersweet joke. The well-played ruse, orchestrated by the Egyptian Media Group, was meant to send a targeted message regarding the work ethics and intentions of some media and public figures, as well as a nudge to all of us to develop a healthy skepticism towards every piece of news.
The manipulation of information is an ancient dilemma. One of the earliest ‘fake news’ stories dates back to 33BC, when Octavian launched a smear campaign against Antony and set the people of Rome against the latter; earning himself the title of the first Roman emperor. Yet, with the technological revolution and the propagation of social media in the 21st century, the threat has become more serious than ever.
Media scholars have been urging for media and information literacy for a long time; and politicians have repeatedly called out ‘fake news’ —sometimes legitimately and other times not so much — But since the usual tools haven’t been quite effective, maybe a prank will be.
“When the Egyptian Media Group found room for creativity, they went creative and they trapped Al Jazeera's channels and their sisters,” El Baramawy said, affirming that the idea added some positivity to the psychological war taking place in the media field, and that it will negatively affect the Muslim Brotherhood media.