Contextual evidence

Of course, one cannot exclude the possibility that the edited version is with chains or ropes. However, given our assumed origin of the original, this is rather unlikely. As we mentioned above, the earliest posting of this version of the image that we could find was from the pro-government group waqee3sory. The text accompanying the photo (quoted in part below) expresses disgust at the way these people are being treated and says it is not in line with President Assad’s decree.

We all rejoiced when the President issued a decree in which he pardoned all draft evaders in Syria and abroad. All the young people, both in Syria and abroad, were happy. Some decided to return within two months to sort out their situation and see their families. The young people here breathed a sigh of relief


However, our joy lasted only a week
😊 . Just a week later, the first batch of reservists were called up.


How is it possible for a presidential decree to be valid for only a week!!!


The President made a bold decision to cancel all military service subpoenas


– The Minister of Defense confirmed in Parliament that the decree and order comes from the Supreme Commander, and that summonses to the reservists will be sent only when necessary – and now there is no need anymore. He then said that for those who responded to the call, the mandatory service would be sufficient, and reservists would not be needed either in the near future or in the future.


I took this picture yesterday at Tale’t il-Iskan in Mezza. Young people in their prime, captured at checkpoints, whose names are on the lists of conscripts or reservists…. See how they are knitted like cattle and shoved into a closed minibus like criminals…. How can such a [person] defend his country!!? He knows that he is going to his death… With such a public demonstration, how will they convince people to join the army?! So they will protect us, and their sons…

Come back, Syrians in the Diaspora, come back .

However, we don’t think waqee3sory was the first to post this picture and this post. We found an identical post on another pro-government Facebook page that lists the name of the author of the original post.

To protect the author, hereinafter we will refer to him under the pseudonym “Adnan”. We examined Adnan’s Facebook page and found that he is clearly a supporter of the Syrian authorities, and also found a post on it explaining that he deleted a recent outrageous post. We believe that with a high probability it was this deleted post that became the primary source of the photo. This clarification was posted around 21:30 UTC on December 3, 2018. Adnan stated that he wrote the deleted post “yesterday”. Thus, most likely this post was the earliest example of the original image.

Adnan is a supporter of the Syrian authorities and was apparently upset by the military’s failure to comply with the decree of President Assad, as well as the refusal of the Syrian diaspora to return to fight on the side of the government. While we recognize that this makes verification difficult, we have chosen not to link to Adnan’s Facebook page or provide specific details in his post, as we don’t want to spread information that could put him in danger.

If Adnan is indeed the original source, then his apparently sincere intentions suggest that this photo was less likely to have been edited. Indeed, finding or taking a fake picture critical of the Syrian military and then posting it on a personal Facebook page that appears to be related to a real person who lives in Damascus would be suicidal.

Second shot

A second shot also emerged, showing the same scene shortly before the first shot. The details in this picture are almost identical, but it was taken from a slightly different angle, and the line is visible a little earlier in it: the first person in the line is visible before he entered the car.

Also visible at the bottom of the photo is a fragment resembling the bottom edge of a car door glass. This corresponds to the shooting location: both shots were taken in the middle of the road when moving to the right (from the side of the shooting location): the plants on the median strip are clearly visible in the video taken there.

Second shot

The resolution of the second image is much lower, but the details speak for its uniqueness. The earliest publication of this image that we have been able to locate is from a report by a pro-government media outlet that published a cropped image in slightly higher resolution at 15:31 (time zone unknown) on December 3, 2018. ropes/chains has not been edited and is the original. We have not yet seen a version of the second photo without ropes/chains, although it should be noted that the origin of the second photo could not be established.

Conclusion

We can only be completely sure that at least one version of the image has been edited. We cannot be completely sure that the version with ropes or chains is the original. However, the context of its publication and the existence of a second, different photo of the same scene suggests that this version is the more likely original.

The distribution of the variant of the image without chains / ropes by Sousli and Souria4Syrians created suspicions that the original photos were “fake”, despite the fact that both of these accounts are known as sources of disinformation (Links to Souria4Syrians as a source of information are prohibited on the Syrian Civil War subreddit, and Sousli believes that Ebola could be an American bioweapon). As a result, some journalists and activists deleted posts and tweets with the original photo. This is perfectly rational behavior in such a situation.

While it is impossible to reach a definitive conclusion in this case, it clearly shows the features of the information ecosystem around the Syrian conflict, where malicious actors, mainly but not necessarily associated with the Syrian authorities or the Russian military, use disinformation to confuse the audience and sow doubt. Obviously, in this case, such actions were successful – regardless of which side performed them and which version of the image was edited.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1F-tlaDSibDxccVfPkatbsN1jjGjP9YAV7TIMjaokGlI/edit?usp=sharing

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