- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Images showing a person suspended from a helicopter over Afghanistan spread widely on social media despite efforts by fact-checkers to correct false claims about it purportedly showing a Taliban execution.

Republican members of Congress, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, both of Texas, helped amplify the debunked narrative this week by sharing the same post on Twitter.

Taliban hanging someone from a helicopter in Kandahar,” Twitter user @Holobornlolz wrote in the tweet Monday shared by Mr. Cruz and Mr. Crenshaw, among others, that included an 11-second video clip.

The video shows an individual suspended from a helicopter. But that person is neither dead nor being hanged, as numerous Twitter users wrongly interpreted or suggested.

Upon closer inspection, the person hanging from the helicopter can be seen to be moving and waving, Reuters reported Tuesday. Other photos help dispel the narrative of the person being executed, the agency added.

Thousands of social media users had seen the footage by then, however. As of Wednesday, the short clip embedded in the tweet later shared by the Texas lawmakers had been viewed about 3 million times.

The video appears to have been first uploaded to Twitter earlier this week by a pro-Taliban account, “@TalibTimes,” which has since been suspended from the social media service for violating its rules.

Counterterrorism expert Faran Jeffrey later shared the same video from his Twitter account, @Natsecjeff, along with a caption: “I swear I don’t know what’s going on here.”

The anonymous Holobornlolz account then shared the same video with its own interpretation in the tweet that was subsequently shared, or retweeted, by Mr. Cruz and Mr. Crenshaw, among thousands more.

“This horrifying image encapsulates Joe Biden’s Afghanistan catastrophe: The Taliban hanging a man from an American Blackhawk helicopter,” Mr. Cruz told his 4.5 million Twitter followers in his retweet.

“In what f—-ing world was it a good idea to just hand over a country to these people,” Mr. Crenshaw reacted while retweeting the Holobornlolz tweet to his more than one million Twitter followers.

Conservative commentator Liz Wheeler reacted with disgust, tweeting: “If this is what it looks like… the Taliban hanging somebody from an American Blackhawk… I could vomit. Joe Biden is responsible.”

Twitter has since flagged tweets containing the video. Labels now appear on those posts informing users that the embedded media has been “presented out of context” and directing them to further details.

Mr. Cruz acknowledged Tuesday that it “may be inaccurate” to say the Taliban had been “hanging a man” from a helicopter and deleted his initial reaction and tweeted a new one in its place. 

“What remains accurate,” Mr. Cruz said in the new tweet, is that the “Taliban are brutal terrorists” who were left millions of dollars in military equipment by the recent U.S. withdrawal.

A local Afghan journalist on Tuesday reported knowing the pilot controlling the helicopter and confirmed the person seen hanging from the aircraft had been trying to install a flag.

Mr. Crenshaw has accordingly faced calls to remove his tweet like Mr. Cruz.

“I get it,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat, said to Mr. Crenshaw on Twitter. “You saw this post and just like me you are fired up about the Taliban re-taking Afghanistan. But multiple sources have debunked your claim. We have to be the adults. Please take this post down, Dan. Let’s all be better.”

Holobornlolz describes themself as a comedian in their Twitter profile.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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