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Utrecht attack: Turkish TV falsely accused a Youtube celebrity of being the suspect because of a hoax on Twitter


FactCheckEU, France

21 March 2019, Updated: 22 May 2019

Utrecht attack: Turkish TV falsely accused a Youtube celebrity of being the suspect because of a hoax on Twitter

Right after the shooting in Utrecht, a German videomaker was the target of a prank tweet claiming he was the suspect. Our partner Viralgranskaren has spoken to the man who spread the false image. "I regret nothing", he said.

The hours following breaking news events like the tragic Utrecht attack on March 18, when 3 people died, are usually filled with misinformation on social media. When many people are simultaneously looking for information, rumors spread easily, and people who are looking to disseminate false information are thriving.

FactcheckEU partner Viralgranskaren talked to one of them: a Twitter user named Erwachsener Rooz. Moments after the news broke, he posted the photo of a man on Twitter, claiming that he was the alleged attacker. (Dutch police named a suspect, a 37-year-old Turkish man named Gokmen Tanis. They have arrested another unnamed suspect on March 20.)

The tweet from Erwachsener Rooz read: "Minutes before the attack, the suspect in Utrecht published a confused manifesto online. The Document, entitled "On Ways of Life”, contains clear allusions to the #Christchurch massacre." It is entirely false.

The man on the picture has not been chosen at random. He’s a German internet personality known as Drachen or Drachenlord, the Dragon Lord. Rainer Winkler, his real name, is a controversial videomaker active since 2011 – he started his channel with videos about metal music and video games but then published more absurd vlogs and hour-long rants about his life. During one of them, answering a question about the Holocaust during a live-stream, he said it was “a nice thing” (he told Zeit that it was meant sarcastically). He has become the subject of frequent online and offline harassment,

The tweets from Erwachesener Rooz were not really successful, as they only got 20 to 30 retweets. But that was enough to be picked up by TV 24, a Turkish news network which broadcasted the picture.

Erwachsener Rooz told Viralgranskaren that the tweet was satire, and also a kind of test to see if any media would fall for his jokes.

“The whole point of my tweets was catching those media channels that put shame on journalism by skipping even the simplest form of fact-checking for the sake of sensationalist coverage and getting the clicks”, said the Twitter user to Viralgranskaren. “While I do understand the struggles of modern journalism, in terms of budget and of the pressure the fast-paced speed of the internet puts onto news coverage, I don’t see *any* excuse for not conducting a proper fact-check. It’s the 101 of journalism and media”, he added over messages on Twitter.

Viralgranskaren was told by TV 24 that they were aware that there had been incorrect reporting and that they had removed the story.

Correctiv, a German partner of FactcheckEU, found that this was not the first time Rainer Winkler has been falsely linked to a shooting. In July 2016, when a man killed and injured several people in a Munich shopping center, someone posted a picture of Drachenlord on Twitter. The images were shared by Russian TV channels. Here again, the picture was not fabricated but taken from one of the Youtuber’s videos.

People who harass Drachenlord have their own community name: “Haiders”, a Germanized version of the word “hater”. In 2018, 800 of them flocked to his home in the small Bavarian town of Altschauerberg. The police had to come to disperse the occupation, a fire had to be extinguished.

“It wasn't about him”, said Erwachsener Rooz, when Viralgranskaren asked him why he chose Drachenlord. “It was just a means to an end. I could have used anyone who holds a gun and looks like someone who could be a public shooter.”

“I regret nothing. The only thing that has happened so far is a little news report that extended his celebrity. No one has been arrested based on my tweet. No one was in actual danger of being mistaken for the real shooter.”

Åsa Larsson (Viralgranskaren), Tania Roettger (Correctiv) and Jules Darmanin (FactcheckEU)

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