Videos and Photos of Different Origins Used to Spread Rumors about the US Downing China’s Spy Balloon

Videos and Photos of Different Origins Used to Spread Rumors about the US Downing China’s Spy Balloon

A Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon found to be flying over the U.S. has sparked tensions between the two countries. According to the U.S. media, on February 4, a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor shot down the object with one AIM-9X Sidewinder missile.

The U.S. officials said the Chinese spy balloon that was shot down was part of a wider fleet that has spanned five continents. China on the other hand called the downing of the balloon an “overreaction” and in violation of “the spirit of international law and international practice.”

The Taiwan FactCheck Center found that immediately after the shooting down of the balloon, Taiwan’s social media platforms saw a surge of related rumors about the debris and how the U.S. shot down the balloon, and the circulation of a video alleged to be a close-up of the fighter jet shooting down the spy balloon.

Rumor 1: A video claiming “the U.S. fighter jet had to fire three missiles to down the Chinese drifting balloon”

A Chinese media personality on February 5 shared a video of the balloon being shot down and commented, “Watching [the shooting] itself is a toil; America had to fire three missiles to shoot down a balloon with no one on it.”

The video showed footage of U.S. television news reporting about the balloon being shot down. Three long smoke trails were shown in the videos, based on which the rumor spread. 

The military experts told the TFC that the missile, due to its shorter burn duration, had a shorter smoke trail. The three long smoke trails shown in the video were therefore the contrails of the F-22 tasked to shoot down the balloon and the supporting jets.


Rumor 2: Photos claimed to be “the scene of debris of the Chinese balloon shot down by U.S. F-22 with AIM-9X Sidewinder missile”

A collection of photos has been circulated on the social media platform since February 5, claiming to be “the scene of the debris of China’s ‘wandering balloon’ taken down by the U.S. F-22 with an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile.”

The TFC found that the six photos in the collection were of different origins, published by different media outlets and institutions from 2010 to 2021. Using image search the TFC found four of the photos were of the balloons from Google Inc.’s Project Loon. One of the photos was from NASA, about a scientific balloon mishap in Australia in 2010, and another one was from a report about a Samsung space satellite crash in Michigan.


Rumor 3: A video claiming to show “the latest footage of the US Air Force shooting down the Chinese surveillance balloon”

A video of two minutes and 20 seconds claiming to be the footage of the U.S. fighter jet downing the balloon and “firing the missile from 1:50” went viral on social media platforms and instant messaging apps. 

The TFC found that the video could be traced to a YouTube channel called Growling Sidewinder, who published the video on February 6 and stated explicitly that the video was recreated using Digital Combat Simulator (DCS), a combat flight simulation game.

A film editor interviewed by the TFC also confirmed that the video was created from a flight simulator. Some of the camera angles of the video segments showing the fighter jet shooting the balloon were either not so smooth or too perfect, he said, which are evidence indicating that the video was created from a simulator.



Featured image: In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Feb. 5, 2023. A missile fired on Feb. 5 by a U.S. F-22 off the Carolina coast ended the days-long flight of what the Biden administration says was a surveillance operation that took the Chinese balloon near U.S. military sites. It was an unprecedented incursion across U.S. territory for recent decades, and raised concerns among Americans about a possible escalation in spying and other challenges from rival China. (Top Image)