Fake ISIS News: Always Triple Verify (Graphic Images)


Some gruesome stories have been circulating in the media regarding ISIS crimes. While ISIS has committed plenty of heinous acts, several stories have been widely shared but sources and confirmations are fuzzy.

If you are someone who follows world events on social media then you have seen twitter and facebook explode whenever something big happens. Now that so many people have smartphones and social media, citizens can upload images that can be easily crosschecked and verified. Previous to August 9, 2014, not many people outside of Missouri had ever heard of Ferguson. After Mike Brown was killed, the twittersphere blew up with tweets, images and videos. We’ve seen the same trend happen every time an extreme injustice or natural disaster happens. A deluge of images and photos suddenly appears and everyone knows something major has happened somewhere.

So why are there no pictures or videos online of beheaded children’s heads on sticks in a Mosul park?

This story seems to have originated from a Skype interview with a man named Mark Arabo that was broadcast on CNN. Arabo reported that ISIS had “systematically beheaded children” and put their heads on sticks in a park in Mosul, Iraq. As far as we can tell, no other sources have corroborated Arabo’s claims although the phrase “systematically beheaded children” has been making the rounds of media echo chambers. Google is now saturated with sites claiming children were beheaded in Mosul.

We noticed the story going viral so we looked for pictures or videos and checked with sources in several countries in the Middle East. Those we asked had not heard any news about beheaded children and we found zero pictures or videos of kids’ heads on sticks anywhere in the world. We can’t verify that the news is false, however it’s highly unusual that not one person in Mosul took a photo or video if such a ghoulish display is actually out in public there.

We did find one photo of a child minus a head on a website called Catholic Online. The article is titled:


This page has several re-appropriated photos to “support” its sensational headline. None of their images are children’s heads on sticks. Beginning with the first image on the page, Catholic Online has captioned it as “A child is photographed, waiting to be killed by militants.”

This image is not recent. It was posted online (possibly) first in April 2014 from Yemen. Clearly using this image does not support the headline.

Re-appropriated Image from Yemen

(Re-purposed Yemeni image with false caption)

Further down this page another image of a beheaded little girl appears and the site correctly attributes the image as being taken in Syria although the caption claims she was “executed by militants because she was of a Christian family.”

Re-appropriated Image from Syria

(Re-purposed Syrian image with false caption)

This little girl was named Fatima and she was killed in 2012 by the Assad regime, not by militants.

Child Fatima Meghlaj
Martyred: 16.9.2012
From: Kafr Owaid, Idlib suburbs
Age: 2 years old (25 months)
Cause of death: Regime TNT barrels fired onto the village leading to a massacre. Fatima lost her head and life due to this.

Actual photos of Fatima:

Images from 2012 in Idlib, Syria

(Real images from 2012 in Idlib, Syria)

Images of Fatima were spread via twitter and attributed to ISIS:

Another image has been circulating of a young girl crying standing next to a man with a microphone and black flags in the background. Some sources claim she is being forced to marry him, others like this image below say he will rape her.

Brown Moses correctly identifies the image as re-purposed and adds he believes “it’s a girl at an IS arrange poetry competition getting upset because she fluffs the poem.” Mideast journalist Joanna Paraszczuk confirms via reply:

‘It’s a Quran recital almost certainly at an ISIS “fun day” from last summer. This same guy was in vids last year leading ISIS “fun day” events in Aleppo inc kids Quran recitals.’

Re-appropriated ISIS images were also used during the #AllEyesOnISIS twitterstorm in June. For example an image originally from Libya was tweeted as coming from Iraq:

After ISIS “world domination maps” spread like crazy through social media it was later reported the maps were fake maps made by a white nationalist group from USA.

(Fake ISIS World Domination Map)

(Fake ISIS World Domination Map)

“Fake” or re-appropriated pics being circulated online is not new or exclusive to ISIS. Re-purposed images were common in Venezuelan social media when protests began there in February. Images from struggles all over the world were falsely attributed to protests in Venezuela, like this (famous) woman in the blue bra from Egypt 2011:

(Re-purposed images from Egypt 2011 falsely attributed to Venezuela 2014)

A website called StopFake was created to verify images coming from Ukrainian social media. The photo below was posted online falsely claiming it was a morgue in Ukraine but was actually taken at a morgue in Mexico from a journalist covering the drug war.

Photo: AP Eduardo Verdugo

(Photo: AP Eduardo Verdugo from Mexico falsely attributed to Ukraine)

Why do people post incorrectly attributed images online? Possibly some users do not know how to perform a reverse image search in google, so simple human error can be somewhat to blame for the spread of false pics. Judging by how fast the false story of the “systematically beheaded children” has spread, it’s obvious that the re-appropriated ISIS images have successfully riled up some people in USA. So generating incitement and fear may also be reasons for posting re-purposed images.

It’s difficult to verify content with so many sources to read and millions of images in circulation. Best practice is to never share a picture if you’re not sure of its origin. It appears as if the most outrageous ISIS stories we’re hearing (i.e. beheaded kids with heads on sticks) are turning out to be false. If a story seems particularly cruel, that’s even more reason to triple check it before spreading.

Reporting false news and spreading re-appropriated images do no good to inform others of what’s happening in the world. There is enough real news happening – sharing false images and information only helps spread propaganda.

And of course the golden rule of the internet – pics or it didn’t happen!

Disclaimer: The team at Revolution News does not in any way support ISIS but we feel it’s important to discredit false news and re-appropriated images as they detract from accurate reporting.

Venezuelan Analysis
Nieman Journalism Lab
Facebook page dedicated to Fatima Meghlaj
Media Matters

About Author

Erin Gallagher is a multimedia artist, translator and writer for Revolution News.