Syrian 'hero boy' video faked by Norwegian director sparks anger
Syrians have responded with outrage to a video showing a young boy rescuing a girl while under gunfire, after it emerged on Friday that the clip had been staged by a Norwegian filmmaker who said he wanted to raise awareness about the conflict.
The video of a boy dodging bullets in front of what look like bombed-out houses to whisk a girl to safety, received millions of views when it was uploaded to YouTube earlier this week.
But on Friday the BBC revealed that the clip was a piece of theatre; filmed on location in Malta this summer by a Norwegian filmmaker who said he deliberately presented the film as reality to generate a discussion about children in conflict zones.
"By publishing a clip that could appear to be authentic we hoped to take advantage of a tool that's often used in war; make a video that claims to be real,” Lars Klevberg, the film's 34-year-old Oslo-based director, told the BBC.
“We wanted to see if the film would get attention and spur debate, first and foremost about children and war.”
Some Syrians responded bitterly to the video though, saying the filmmaker had exploited an ongoing conflict.
“I consider it a cheap publicity stunt, unscrupulous people looking to get fame at the expense of our suffering,” said Edward Dark, a Syrian activist from Aleppo.
“I’m saddened that the plight of Syrians has been commercialised and sensationalised in an awful way like this,” Dark said.
Amateur footage from Syria – uploaded every day by civilians and often notoriously difficult to verify – has proven an important tool in uncovering atrocities.
The US and UK governments relied heavily on mobile-phone footage shot in the aftermath of a chemical attack in a Damascus suburb in August last year, which left hundreds dead.
But fake or doctored videos, sometimes used to serve political agendas, have become a defining characteristic of media coverage of the war.
There is fear among Syrians that the Norwegian video will dent the public’s trust in news coming out of the country.
“Now everytime someone records an atrocity on their mobile phone the burden of proof is on them to prove it isn’t fake,” said Aboud Dandachi, a displaced resident of Homs now living in Istanbul.
“The story now isn't going to be about child victims. It will be about the fabrication itself. It will also stop people from retweeting or sharing other videos,” said Dandachi.
Research carried out by the Oxford Research Group found that sniper fire killed nearly 400 Syrian children under the age of 17 between March 2011 and August 2013.
The conflict is preventing 2.8 million children from getting an education and has destroyed or damaged more than 3,400 schools, according to international charities.
Militant Islamist groups are recruiting children as young as 15 and sending them into battle after promising them a free education, according to Human Rights Watch.