Like many people who watched the “Syrian hero boy” video last week, I was disgusted by the images of a boy getting shot while trying to save a young girl and inspired by the heroism of the act. While the source of the video was unclear, I found it consistent with the barbarity and courage that Syrians experience every day.
Now I’m just disgusted.
The Norwegian filmmaker Lars Klevberg has gone public to say it was a hoax – a “short fiction film” shot in Malta during the summer with funding from the Norwegian Film Institute and Arts Council Norway. He said he wanted to highlight the plight of Syrian children in war. If indeed that’s true, his method has done damage to the cause.
Klevberg and his colleagues have cast doubt on the videos and photographs of real atrocities that have emerged from the Syria war. Some of these may have been faked or deliberately mislabeled, but many have been rigorously scrutinized and verified by journalists and human rights researchers. With access to Syria limited, videos and cell phone clips from local activists have been a crucial part of documenting crimes against civilians, including the use of chemical weapons, attacks on schools, and the use of child soldiers.
By releasing a fake video, Klevberg has made it easier for war criminals to dismiss credible images of abuse.
More broadly, his deception helps erode the public’s trust in war reporting. Future videos and articles on atrocities may be summarily dismissed when the situation deserves exactly the opposite: critical attention and outrage.
If the video hoax achieved any short-term goals by highlighting the plight of children in war, those have been washed away by undermining confidence in professional reporting and war crimes documentation that is done with care and consideration for the facts.
The displaced, orphaned and maimed children of Syria will not have been served by that.