Screenshot of the video that turned out to be a fake.

The video “Syrian hero boy rescues girl” set social networks alight last week with its footage of a boy rescuing a little girl from heavy sniper fire. Yet there was a glitch: it was a fake created by a Norwegian filmmaker, who purposefully left viewers in the dark over the origin of his film.

With shaky camerawork, background commentary, a city in ruinsand gunfire, the video had all the ingredients of a piece of amateur footage bearing witness to the daily horrors of the Syrian conflict. Its producers uploaded it on November 10 and it quickly went viral, collecting over 6 million views on YouTube. It was also widely relayed on social networks.

In fact, this video is an extract from a short feature film shot in Malta this summer by a Norwegian filmmaker, who insists that he published it with the aim of raising awareness about children caught up in conflicts. “By publishing a clip that could appear to be authentic, we hoped to take advantage of a method that's often used in war: making a video that claims to be real. We wanted to see if the film would get attention and spur debate, first and foremost about children and war,” Lars Klevberg explained. He even uploaded a video that shows the making of the first video.

These revelations were met with a number of angry reactions, notably from the NGO Human Rights Watch, who stated that Klevberg’s video is “undermining confidence in professional reporting and war crimes documentation that is done with care and consideration for the facts”, and that it “has made it easier for war criminals to dismiss credible images of abuse”.

The filmmaker has apologised. On the BBC, he emphasised the point that, for him, seeing the children “surviving gunshots was supposed to send small clues that it was not real”. He also said that he was “really happy” to have “created a debate”.

The film did not attract any particular attention when its producers first uploaded it a few weeks ago. But when they reposted it with the word “hero” in the title, and sent it to different Twitter accounts, it was spotted by Shaam News, a media group that curates generally reliable amateur footage, particularly to do with the Syrian conflict. When France 24 contacted them last week, Shaam News’ editorial team said that they were not 100% sure of the accuracy of the video, but they had decided to publish it anyway.