Today, the Times reported that US officials said they have “multiple strands of intelligence,” including infrared satellite imagery, indicating that the deadly blast was caused by the Islamic Jihad group, though that evidence has not been released publicly. US president Joe Biden, who is meeting with officials in Israel today, echoed Israel’s claim that its military did not fire the rocket that hit the hospital. “Based on the information we have seen today, it appears the result of an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza,” he said.
In the days since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, people claiming to be OSINT practitioners have emerged on social media who are much more willing to make conclusive findings almost immediately than people who have a long history of conducting OSINT work.
This new group is “publishing analysis as quickly as possible when events are taking place, in an attempt to compete for public attention,” Francesco Sebregondi, a forensic architect who helps investigate human rights abuses through a technique known as forensic architecture, tells WIRED. “This is of course detrimental to the fundamental goal of citizen-led open source investigations.”
The purpose of OSINT investigations is to independently verify information “and to enable counter-investigations of authoritative arguments and sometimes misleading official accounts,” Sebregondi says.
Sebregondi says OSINT accounts that rush to post analyses prematurely not only mislead their followers but help bolster the narrative of political actors who may be “counting on the eagerness of some OSINT actors to use any image, material, or data to quickly publish new content or ‘analysis’—and thereby more or less directly support its version of the events.”
Aside from the apparent bragging rights of being first, there is also now a financial incentive to post updates before anyone else because if you’re “first and put out a hot take even if you’re maybe not correct you can actually get paid out for it,” Koltai says, referring to X’s revenue-sharing program.
Fact-checking and open source investigations have long been seen as a way to hold platforms accountable by debunking disinformation that spreads unchecked on social media, but the Israel-Hamas war has shown how the language of OSINT investigators has been co-opted by self-interested parties, says Caroline Orr, a behavioral scientist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland who tracks disinformation online.
“I think one of the most disturbing aspects of studying disinfo is when you realize that even fact-checking has become weaponized,” Orr wrote on X. “Most people don’t care about the truth about the hospital being bombed; they just care about finding a truth to use against the other side.”