A recently released video from the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo showed two White Helmet volunteers helping an injured man trapped under the rubble. However, instead of pulling the victim out and carrying him to safety, the rescuers did something unexpected.
They stopped moving.
Turns out, the Revolutionary Forces of Syria (RFS) staged the whole scene. The men were apparently performing their own version of the viral Mannequin Challenge to “reach the western audience” in hopes to “raise awareness of the suffering of the Syrian people.”
Unsurprisingly, the short video drew ire for being “insensitive.” While the White Helmets activists, nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, just wanted to get the message across, many on social media claimed the idea fell flat.
Syrian Civil Defense apologized and called it an “error of judgment.”
“This video and the related posts were recorded by RFS media with Syria Civil Defense volunteers, who hoped to create a connection between the horror of Syria and the outside world using the viral ‘Mannequin challenge,’” the statement read. “This was an error of judgment, and we apologize on behalf of the volunteers involved.”
The White Helmets comprise roughly 3,000 volunteer rescue workers, who have saved thousands of people in the aftermath of deadly airstrikes in the rebel-held areas since 2013.
While the war zone Mannequin Challenge wasn’t their brightest idea to date, does it simply undo all the good work they have done in Syria?
“The video is originally a short staged scene by RFS Media Office in contribution to the international #MannequinChallenge campaign,” RFS said on its website. “The video depicts the work of the White Helmets teams in the form of static mannequins to simulate reality. However, the regime used the video to distort facts and twist perceptions. As usual, the Syrian regime’s media workers took the video, abstracted of its background, and started spinning false stories about it to serve their own purposes and the purposes of Assad regime.”
RFS released its statement after Russian media outlets, including RT, implied that by “faking” the footage, White Helmets has raised doubts about its other rescue videos. Interestingly, Russian state-controlled media’s stance seems in line with President Bashar-al-Assad, who said the haunting image of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh was in fact staged.
This is not the first time that activists in Syria have tried using viral trends and pop culture references — such as Pokemon Go and the Avengers — to bring attention to the plight of Syrians stuck in the war zone.