International Olympic Committee Says It Was Target of Elaborate ‘Fake News’

The International Olympic Committee issued an unusual statement on Thursday saying it had been targeted by “fake news posts” that it said contained “defamatory content, a fake narrative and false information.” The elaborate campaign included manufactured quotations from I.O.C. representatives, fake news stories citing those fabricated comments and even a Netflix-style documentary series released online and narrated by a voice purporting to be the actor Tom Cruise.

The I.O.C. said it had been aware for months of the four-part documentary series, titled “Olympics Has Fallen,” and had succeeded in having it removed from a channel on YouTube, the world’s largest video streaming service. The film remains visible on other platforms, however, including the encrypted messaging and content platform Telegram.

It was a separate post on Telegram that appears to have prompted the Olympic committee to issue its statement on Thursday. That post, which contained another well-produced video with overlaying text, carried the logo of Canal Plus, France’s biggest premium television network. It purported to quote the Olympic committee’s top spokesman suggesting the I.O.C. was weighing whether to ban the teams representing Israel and Palestine from next summer’s Summer Olympics in Paris.

The news report appeared on the Telegram channel on Oct. 18 and remains viewable there. The I.O.C. only learned of it last week, when a German-language news agency asked it to confirm the content was accurate.

“This is not the first time the I.O.C. has been faced with disinformation campaigns being run against the organization on social media,” the Olympic committee said in its statement, adding, “All this appears to be part of an organized disinformation campaign.”

The I.O.C. did not specify who it suspected of being behind the videos and the Telegram channel.

The channel has more than 400,000 subscribers and is almost entirely full of Russian-language content. The I.O.C. recently announced it had suspended Russia’s national Olympic Committee, and it is weighing how to allow Russian athletes to compete at the Paris Olympics amid continued opposition from dozens of nations demanding a complete prohibition on Russian participation because of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

The I.O.C.’s response to being targeted comes as Russia claims that it is being unfairly treated and singled out for harsh penalties related to the ongoing war in Ukraine, while nations involved in other conflicts — including Israel — have not faced similar punishments.

Disinformation has become a potent force in the online age, capable of stoking anger, sowing confusion and spreading false narratives in an instant. It can influence elections, popular opinion and even economic markets, and has been a feature employed by both sides in the war in Ukraine and in the current conflict in Gaza, where Iran, Russia and, to a lesser degree, China have used state media, social networking platforms and online allies to support Hamas and undercut Israel.

Concerned by the growing power and effectiveness of disinformation campaigns, a center at the State Department now seeks to identify and expose them before they can gain traction, a reflection of the growing belief that false narratives are harder to counter once they have begun to spread.

The news video about the I.O.C. on Telegram runs more than 90 seconds. It carries quotes purporting to be from the Olympic committee’s top spokesman, Mark Adams, saying delegates at the committee’s annual meeting, held recently in India, came close to suspending representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian national teams as well as their fans.

Text accompanying the fake news report said the I.O.C. was considering suspending the two delegations as well because “the Olympic Committee fears a repeat of the 1972 terrorist attack in Munich.”

The news clip ends with a promo for the documentary series and a scannable code that links to it.

Those films attack the I.O.C. as an institution and its leadership, particularly its president, Thomas Bach, and a group it describes as his “flunkies.” Mr. Bach and others in his circle, it says without evidence, are at the center of a plot to “cleverly embezzle funds from the entire sports community by way of cunning fraudulent schemes.”

Wary of further attempts to undermine it, the I.O.C. included links to its website and all of its official social media channels in its statement on Thursday, and requested that news media members contact it to confirm the authenticity of information circulating about the organization on social media.

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