Video showing ‘missile’ in Beirut blast was manipulated
CLAIM: Footage from the Beirut explosion shows a missile striking the site just before the blast.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The video, which was circulating on YouTube and Twitter, has been manipulated to add what appears to be a cartoon missile. There is no evidence Tuesday’s explosion was an attack of any kind.
THE FACTS: Posts sharing the video, which spread rapidly on social media on Thursday, claimed it showed a missile striking the seaport of Beirut moments before the blast, but a closer look reveals that the large missile was superimposed onto the video.
In the manipulated video, a negative film effect was used to invert the colors, supposedly revealing a missile striking the seaport of Beirut. But when viewing the video frame by frame, the missile appears bent in the middle and has a cartoonish appearance. As the missile moves closer to the target, its size and the angle doesn’t change. About 8 seconds into the video, the missile disappears before getting close to striking anything.
Hany Farid, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who focuses on digital forensics, confirmed to The Associated Press in an email that the missile was “obviously fake.”
“In addition, the missile looks far too large to be physically plausible and there is no motion blur on the missile as would be expected given the speed at which it would have been traveling,” Farid said.
One Youtube account that posted the video, which has been viewed more than 348,000 times in less than a day, suggested the explosion resulted from an attack. “The closest explosion angles available online,” the video’s caption read. “You still believe that was an accident!!??”
The video was also downloaded and shared on Facebook and Twitter, where it was retweeted more than 7,000 times. Dozens of Twitter users thought the manipulated video was authentic.
“It’s basically a cartoon missile that doesn’t look anything like a real missile striking a target,” Jeffrey Lewis, a missile expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California confirmed to the AP.
“If it were less amateurish, we could identify the actual missile type, estimate the reentry trajectory and speed, as well as look for digital artifacts,” Lewis said. “But this isn’t good enough to bother with. This is more derp fake than deep fake.”
Tuesday’s explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city, killed at least 130 people and wounded more than 5,000.
Experts believe fireworks and the highly explosive chemical ammonium nitrate fueled the blast, the AP has reported. Investigators are looking into possible negligence in the case, as 2,750 tons of the ammonium nitrate had been stored at Beirut’s port since 2013.
Though President Donald Trump suggested the explosion could have been an attack, his comments were quickly rebutted on Wednesday by experts and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said the explosion “was an accident, as reported.”
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.
Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536