Welcome to the first edition of the FactcheckEU newsletter!
Hello, Jules Darmanin from FactcheckEU here. Welcome to the inaugural edition of our newsletter. Every Monday, I'll be sharing the best fact-checking stories from our 19 partners across Europe, as well as anything that caught my eye in the European disinformation world. It's going to be a wild ride, so let's jump in right away.
Story of the week: Mob lynchings in France
This story is two weeks old, but also crucial to understand. In various suburbs of Paris, different versions of the same child-abduction rumor circulated on various social media platforms. The message spread across platforms told people they needed to watch out for a white (or red) van, which was supposedly used by Roma people to kidnap children and harvest their organs. This has led to gang attacks on Roma people or on Romanian people who were driving a van with a Bulgarian license plate. Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief of the Observers of France 24, tells the story in English. Libération and 20 Minutes have detailed reports in French. Fortunately, no one was killed.
These events are strikingly similar, though on a smaller scale, to what we've seen for the past couple of years in India. Child abduction rumors spreading on Whatsapp led to the death of five men in the rural Indian town of Rainpada, in one of the most deadly events of a WhatsApp-fueled mob lynching epidemic that affected the country in 2018. WhatsApp has limited the number of messagesthat could be forwarded at once in the country. It's hard to know whether this had any effect, but the number of victims of lynching seems to have dropped.
These events have been often covered as being an Indian specificity, but it's now clear, for anyone who would have doubted it, that no country is immune to it.
Let's be honest: rumors of child abductions are literally centuries old. Socrates Scholasticus, a Christian historian from the fifth century, wrote false reports of Jews seizing and killing a Christian boy, "amusing themselves in their usual way". But social media platforms, which are generally skewing towards more group chat features and more local content, are helping these rumors to spread at an unusual speed. What can they do besides putting a cap on sharing?
The week on FactcheckEU
🇬🇷 In Greece 🇬🇷
🇮🇹 In Italy 🇮🇹
"Everyone else does it" is rarely an argument you hear from Matteo Salvini, so when he claimed that chemical castration for sex criminals is "used on a voluntary basis in many western countries", Pagella Politica checked it. Turns out he is right.
🇫🇷 In France 🇫🇷
Throughout the gilets jaunes protests, fact-checking outlets have been at the forefront of the police violence coverage (see this feature from AFPFactuel). That being said, there is still misinformation on gilets jaunes groups. Recently, this false story about European law allowing the state to kill demonstrators has been spreading.
What our partners are working on
- 🇩🇪 In Germany, teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement are frequently targeted by misinformation. Correctiv has a story (in German) on a good old fake protest sign (No, teenagers are not asking for a price surge on electricity). Correctiv also debunks the strange story of an author (who does not exist) refusing an award (which has not been given to him) because Thunberg has received the same award.
- 🇮🇪 In Ireland, TheJournal.ie saved Christmas. A misleading claim stated that multi-denominational schools (as opposed to Catholic schools) didn't celebrate Christian holidays like Christmas or Easter. That was blatantly false.
- 🇫🇷 In France, Le Monde published an investigation (in French, for subscribers) showing that one of the top aides of Emmanuel Macron, Ismaël Emelien, edited a video in order to defend former security aide Alexandre Benalla. The second part of the video, which was claiming to show how violent was the May Day protestor that later got jumped on by Benalla, was actually showing someone else.
What's going on elsewhere
- The International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, had many interesting talks and panels on disinformation. I recommend this panel on health misinformation and this talk on misleading videos.
- The New York Times lays out the new Russian playbook for election interference in Ukraine.
- This BuzzFeed News story about older generations and misinformation is set in the US, but could have been written in Europe as well.
Have a great week,