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Watch out for false information around the Notre-Dame fire


FactCheckEU, France

16 April 2019, Updated: 24 April 2019

Watch out for false information around the Notre-Dame fire

As with any breaking news event, the tragic Notre-Dame fire, which destroyed the roof of the Parisian cathedral, has been followed by a lot of disinformation. Here is what you should be looking out for.

No, there’s no proof that the fire has been “intentionally set” or “a terrorist attack”

The exact cause of the fire has not been determined yet. The Paris prosecutor has opened an investigation for “involuntary destruction by fire”, as the cathedral was going under renovation works. Investigators, this Tuesday, are favouring the possibility of an accidental fire.

A tweet from Christopher J. Hale, a Time columnist, has enabled the “arson” theory to spread further. “A Jesuit friend in Paris who works in #NotreDame told me cathedral staff said the fire was intentionally set”, he wrote, adding in a second tweet: “I should note that he has zero evidence beyond what the staff said. So qualify this as an unsubstantiated rumor.”


This didn’t keep the conspiracy website InfoWars from publishing an article on the sole basis of this tweet, that has since been deleted.

Other pieces of misleading information have been circulating, claiming that the fire was the consequence of a terrorist attack. In Spain, the website Alerta Digital has published this baseless claim, reports Maldito Bulo.

Capture d’écran 2019-04-16 à 11.11.29.jpg

No, no gas tanks have been found near Notre-Dame on the day of the fire

Many social media accounts are sharing a real article from the Telegraph, headlined: “Gas tanks and Arabic documents found in unmarked car by Paris' Notre-Dame cathedral spark terror fears”. This story is from 2016, and is unrelated to the fire. The Telegraph has added a disclaimer on its article.

Capture d’écran 2019-04-16 à 11.17.05.jpg

There was no man standing next to the fire while it started. It’s a statue.

AFP Factuel has debunked a conspiracy theory involving a picture in which we can see the figure of a person standing next to the fire. This figure is the one of “la Vierge du trumeau du portail du Cloître”, as you can see here:

Yes, this picture of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower is real

Sur flickr : https://www.flickr.com/photos/anto13/47563806432/in/photostream/lightbox/ Un de mes points de vue préféré...

Publiée par A.G. photographe sur Lundi 15 avril 2019

Some people have suggested that this picture, published on the Facebook page A.G. Photographie, was a fabricated image. It is not: it’s mostly a matter of perspective and of material, reports Checknews, which published an interview with the photographer. The picture was taken very far from the scene with a tele photo lens.

No, this is not the second time Notre-Dame has been burning

This misleading tweet claims that the cathedral was bombed during the First World War. It has not, and the pictures on the tweet are from the Cathedral of Reims.

There’s no proof that the Notre-Dame fire has any link with past vandalism

From Checknews, 15min and Correctiv - Many people, on social media and in interviews, have been linking the fire with previous acts of vandalism against churches. There indeed has been an arson at the Saint-Sulpice church on March 17, even though the culprit and their motive are still unknown. There was another fire in January in a church in Grenoble. The investigation is still ongoing but the Grenoble prosecutor said there was “95% chances” the fire was accidental, even though an anarchist group claimed they were responsible. There are about two acts of vandalism against churches every day in France, including satanic, neo-nazi, anarchist or Islamist graffitis, according to the ministry of Interior quoted by Checknews.

The baseless link between those acts of vandalism and the Notre-Dame fire has been made, for instance, by Philippe Karsenty, a controversial local politician from Neuilly-sur-Seine’s city council, on Fox News.

This link was also made on several websites in Germany and in Lithuania, according to our partners Correctiv and 15min.

No, there was no “lone man in a yellow vest” in one of the Notre-Dame towers

A video of a man walking on the southern tower of Notre-Dame has been circulating along with false claims that he was “a Yellow Vest” or “Muslim”.

It actually was a firefighter, as Checknews reports. They were already working in this tower as this CNBC stream, of better quality, shows (starting from 42 min) :

Photo credit: CC-By-SA 4.0/Millipied

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