A viral video claiming to show passengers in their final moments on board Sunday’s doomed Ethiopian Airlines flight has been labelled a hoax, sparking warnings against sharing footage of tragic events online.
Following the plane disaster that killed 157 people, Ethiopian community members across the world, including in Australia, began receiving a distressing video that had also been shared online and viewed more than 33,000 times by Wednesday.
The footage, purporting to show those on board Flight 302 panicking inside the aircraft, prompted widespread distress with viewers believing it was real.
Passengers can be seen wearing oxygen masks and a baby can be heard crying hysterically in the background.
Yehulum Ethiopian Community founder Befekir Kebede said the video had been shared widely among members of the Ethiopian community in Victoria.
“It’s very sad that people can do this in the wake of tragedies like this,” Mr Kebede said.
“I showed my mum. It was very distressing to watch … I didn’t question it because it looked legitimate.”
But Twitter and Facebook users quickly began pointing out clues that proved the video was a fake.
The Ethiopian aircraft which went down, a 737 Max is a single aisle plane; while the video in question features a double aisle, wide body aircraft possibly a 787.
— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) March 11, 2019
Other people pointed out that the viral video appeared to have been filmed at night, while the real Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed in the morning.
Non-profit fact-checking organisation Africa Check issued a statement on Tuesday confirming the video was a fake.
“Many people shared the video out of heartbreak and compassion for the 157 passengers and crew who died on Sunday morning,” the statement reads. “But sharing unverified videos does little to help.”
Why do people share fake videos online?
The short answer: Money.
When a person uploads a video online and it starts to gain popularity, advertisers will pay to show their ads before the video starts.
For every 1000 views of the ad that is played per video, the person who uploaded the video will be paid a certain amount of money, usually ranging between $1 and $5.
Western Sydney University senior lecturer and media expert Dr Tanya Notley said the opportunity to make some easy money was a key reason why people shared fake videos online.
“In terms of the expansion of fake news, I think financial motivators are key and primary,” Dr Notley said.
“More and more people are understanding how Google ads work and becoming aware of how to game the system.”
While most people won’t make much money by sharing videos online, some people have shot to stardom and made a fortune.
But YouTube recently made it harder for up-and-coming video makers to earn money in this way by tightening restrictions around paid advertisements.
How can you check if a viral video or image is fake?
RMIT University research fellow and media expert Stan Karanasios said it was crucial people took steps to decipher whether or not a video was real before sharing it on social media, especially given that “fake news” online was becoming increasingly common.
“Always check the source of a video or image before sharing it on social media,” Dr Karanasios said.
“You need to ask yourself: Has it been distributed by a reputable news organisation?”
He said people also needed to be wary of viral videos showing distressing events like natural disasters because they were specifically designed to generate an “intense emotional response” to gain clicks.
Dr Notley said another tip to check the authenticity of a video was to find out if it has been used before.
“Often you’ll find the same images keep being used for different events again and again, but sometimes you’ll see the video or image is years old,” Dr Notley said.