Reuters uncovers ‘deepfake’ journalist used to target War on Want

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Reuters has exposed how a ‘deepfake’ photograph – a hyper-realistic forgery – was used to create a fake journalist profile to spread disinformation about a War on Want staff member in online media outlets.

False allegations about War on Want staff member Ryvka Barnard, her husband, and War on Want, were published in articles authored by ‘Oliver Taylor’ in US-based news site The Algemeiner on 7 April 2020, and in Israel-based Arutz Sheva on 19 April 2020. An additional article appeared on Indian website Latestly on 24 April 2020, without an author credit.

Reuters has uncovered that: ‘Oliver Taylor seems to be an elaborate fiction. His university says it has no record of him. He has no obvious online footprint... newspapers that published his work say they have tried and failed to confirm his identity. And experts in deceptive imagery used state-of-the-art forensic analysis programs to determine that Taylor’s profile photo is a hyper-realistic forgery - a “deepfake.”

Reuters revealed that both The Algemeiner and Arutz Sheva published the articles on their websites without verifying the authenticity of the author, or the veracity of the factually incorrect and defamatory content.

War on Want has long been subject to disinformation campaigns which try to disrupt and discredit the charity, aiming to make our work impossible. Disinformation campaigns have focused on War on Want’s work in support of Palestinian rights, and echo larger disinformation attacks aimed at Palestinian NGOs. Disinformation campaigns targeting Palestinian human rights organisations have been raised by the UN as damaging to the ability of targeted organisations to advocate on behalf of Palestinian rights.

The Algemeiner and Arutz Sheva articles repeated historic, false allegations made against War on Want, which were dismissed by the Charity Commission in July 2019. False claims of links to terror organisations were brought by UK Lawyers for Israel and The Lawfare Project, who are politically opposed to War on Want’s human rights work on Palestine. These false claims were also brought to PayPal, causing it to cancel its provision of services to War on Want, directly impacting the charity’s operational ability.

Asad Rehman, Executive Director at War on Want, said: ‘We’re pleased that malicious, false allegations about a War on Want staff member and her husband have been exposed for what they are - disinformation aimed at disrupting human rights work. The publications in question repeated old allegations made against War on Want, which were completely dismissed by the Charity Commission, the charities regulator in England and Wales, because of their baselessness.

These smears are part of a broader disinformation campaign aimed at attacking and discrediting human rights defenders, internationally-recognised Palestinian human rights organisations, their partner organisations and donors. The aim is to make our work impossible, and to isolate Palestinians from the powerful international solidarity movement that has formed in support of justice and equality. War on Want will not be deterred. We remain committed to advocating for the rights of the Palestinian people, and to standing up against injustice, in solidarity with human rights defenders around the world.’

Since Reuters began their investigation, The Algemeiner has taken down Oliver Taylor’s article from its website.  Arutz Sheva has kept an edited version of the article on its website, after lawyers for Barnard and her husband contacted the publication.