"The Cyber Armies".. Fabricated News taking over "Facebook"

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Iraqi Media House

In its 29th Report, the Iraqi Media House discusses what has come to be known on the political and public levels as "The Cyber Armies" on "Facebook", the most popular website in Iraq. Dozens of pages on Facebook are publishing and posting fabricated news and sarcastic comments through professionals and experts who work in the field of journalism and montage. Such news has become a major driver of the public opinion, and even the media outlets in the country often share those news and offer them to the public although such news lack professionalism and violate the profession's standards.

The Report includes the monitoring of a large sample that included around (30) pages on "Facebook". The social networking websites' users noticed the wide spread of these pages lately and reported that they were able to attract thousands of followers of the course of few days. The paid ads in these pages often includes specific news that include political news, reports and messages.

Moreover, the Media House's observers stated that a large portion of the content found in the news, photos and videos that are published in these pages includes hatred speech. The majority of the pages are regional in nature and target specific social groups, parties, sects, and nationalities. This has created a dangerous phenomenon and has been directing the collective public opinion which now relies on the social networking websites as a source of information rather than the traditional audio and visual media.

The Report includes careful and documented monitoring of the creation history of these pages, their definitions and number of followers along with a sample of their posts that also contains the number of interactors whether through likes, comments or shares on their personal profiles. Such information is important because it helps shed light on the speed and scale by which those news are spreading among the Iraqis on the social networking websites.

"The Iraqi Media House" points out that the monitoring work was based on a comprehensive sample known as the "Cyber Armies" which includes reviewing and analyzing their content without judging the motives and goals of these pages and the bodies that stand behind them or the nature of the news, reports and article that they contain. Rather, the report focuses on the professional aspect of the issue and the implications of the absence of professionalism on the local Iraqi media outlets as well as the impact on social peace and security.

The Monitoring Report has arrived at the following results:

1—The Media House's observers noticed that the published news in the majority of the monitored pages were written and edited in a very professional way in terms of their language, but still they lacked professionalism since they relied heavily on the use of aggressive or sarcastic phrases against social parties, personalities and groups. Such phrases included hatred words like "scums", "disgrace", "idiots", "treachery", "coward", and "traitor".

2- The pages publishes what they call administrative and financial corruption cases that are not addressed by the traditional media. However, the introduction of those cases along with a "paid ad" to make them reach the biggest audience possible, lack proofs and evidences, whereas other pages produce official letters of ministries and official bodies using Adobe Photoshop software to make their news seem more authentic and credible. More often than not, those posts receive wide interaction from the audience who believes such stories and uses them as a basis for its positions.

3- The Media House's observers reported that these pages' posts are intensively active in times of crisis and incidents that occur on the national level, such as bombings and abductions, or during officials' visits to the country, and the content of these posts focuses on verbal offense against some politicians through two or more fronts that seeks to hold the other side responsible for these crises. What is even more worrying is the fact that some use these incidents and give them more attention than they deserve. This is done for example by posting dozens of photos of dead people claiming that they are victims of bombings which are revealed later to be old photos. Another example is telling stories on behalf of some politicians and linking them to the incidents.

4- Some of the monitored pages are also linked to other networking websites, most notably "Twitter" and "YouTube". Some YouTube channels re-post some video clips that contain controversial statements by politicians after editing the clip and publishing only that part of the video that pertains to the controversial statement. This increases the rate by which controversial statements that incite hatred spread among the society groups. "The Iraqi Media House" has previously published a large report about these statements in two parts under the title "Hatred Supporters".

5- Some pages also use names of news agencies or famous newspapers in order to garner more attention for themselves or introduce themselves as legitimate news agencies, whereas other pages attract audiences by publishing photos of Iraqi female media personalities or actresses. The Media House's observers noticed that the most popular and wide-spread pages use non-political public posts, such as video clips and news about the victories made by the Iraq army and the national sport teams as a basis to spread and promote regional news.

6- Some pages adopt a certain case and works on supporting it through its posts that include news and rumors. The admins of those pages define themselves as belonging to a group of employees in ministries and governmental bodies. Their posts target state officials.

7- The Media House's observers have documented some of the pages that were created just few weeks back which received thousands of followers through the "paid ad" feature despite not posting any materials. It seems that those pages are being prepared to be launched during future events.

8 – Some pages assume the names of some famous political parties and groups. After the monitoring it was found that the content of their posts actually attack those parties and their members. The regionalism of these pages was not determined.

9- The Media House's observers noticed that verbal wars are being waged between those pages. One post in a page often leads to reactions from other pages on the same news. The situation is so bad that both sides accuse each other of forming cyber armies. For example, one of the pages published a post in which it referred to the operation structure of "cyber armies" of politicians that even included the names and photos of some individuals which they claimed to be the supervisors of those armies.



1- The governmental and official institutions must apply the Right to obtain Information principle for both the media and the audience in order to achieve the highest level of transparency in the major national issues. The absence of transparency and the officials' abstention from commenting is considered one of the major factors that help spread rumors and fabricated news around these issues. Moreover, due to the absence of an explicit official position, the audience tends to believe what is being published on the social networking websites. This is reflected in the officials themselves who are forced to comment on the rumors later when it is too late since these rumors and false news have already reached a wide audience through the social networking websites thanks to the "paid ads" feature.

2- The media needs to focus prioritizing the professional aspect when covering major crises, especially those that are related to the fate of individuals and social groups and institutions. This can be done by adopting real information that is based on documents and statements made by the concerned parties and to refrain from using the social networking websites as a main source for media coverage. It is also important to emphasize that the media outlets' attempt to deny responsibility for what they publish by citing social networking websites as their reference does not relieve those outlets from their professional and legal responsibility toward the publishing of false news and instigating campaigns that contribute to the deepening of the social divide.

3- Promote the culture of professionalism when dealing with the digital content by providing experience to the audience and teach it how to deal with the circulated news, photos and videos, as well as explaining the risks that the false posts impose on the social peace and security. Moreover, it is important to encourage the citizen journalism phenomenon to enable the largest number of the public to access accurate information on their own with respect to certain key events instead of resorting to social networking websites to obtain information. This can be achieve by encouraging the strategy of using the social media and blogging.

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