After Paris attacks, fake missing persons and incorrect biographies of victims


Since the Paris attacks, a large amount of misinformation has circulated on social media, some of it by mistake, some of it intentional. A week after the tragedy, fake missing person alerts are still being widely distributed by Internet users. Even more disturbing are are the fake biographies of victims.

Fake missing persons appeals

Just a few hours after the attacks, internet users had already created several Facebook and Twitter accounts to share appeals from friends and family members searching for missing persons in Paris. A dozen more accounts have sprung up since. Most use variations on the name “Recherche Paris”.

As the week wore on, many missing persons appeals posted on these accounts turned into death notices. Some families, however, were able to use them to share good news: they had found the person they were looking for, safe and sound.

These accounts helped many people by providing emotional support. Unfortunately, some fake missing person notices slipped in with the real ones. For example, the photo of a young man named Yousef, who was not at all missing, was posted on one of these Twitter accounts:

Photo blurred by FRANCE 24.

From there, his photo was widely shared and ended up being included in a video montage honoring those killed in the attacks. The video’s author had apparently mixed up a list of missing people with a list of those killed.

A coworker spotted the error and alerted Yousef, who asked that the video be taken down.

Translation: “BEWARE of fakes! Think of their family/of the consequences. This person is fine. #fake #harassment”

However, on Twitter, his photo is still visible on numerous accounts. Several media outlets have also included a “Yousef” when they give examples of the names of the victims, even though this name is not on any list of confirmed victims.

Buzzfeed spotted two other examples of fake missing persons appeals. It quickly became apparent that the Tweet below was a tasteless joke made by a teenager trying to prank his friend – but not before it was shared hundreds of times.

Translation: “My cousin was found dead #Bataclan #RIP #shooting #ParisShooting #NeverForgetYou #LoveYou” (@BFM refers to a French news channel, BFM TV.)

Translation: “He’s a guy from my city, he’s like my brother, he knows I’m joking, he saw the photo”

Then, there was this Internet user, who used a photo of Sylvain Durif in his fake missing persons appeal. Durif became somewhat of a celebrity in France after calling himself “the Great Monarch, the Cosmic Christ” and participating in the “end of the world” festivities in the town of Bugarach in 2012, where many end-times believers had gathered. This tweet – where the Internet user says his missing uncle has gone to “the Virgin Mary’s spaceship” – should have raised a red flag. However, several media outlets, including French TV channel TF1 and Australian channel Nine News, broadcast the photo without checking it.

After receiving several fakes, the administrator of this Twitter account, which was relaying missing persons appeals, voiced their anger:

Translation: “People are sending me fake missing persons appeals. It’s difficult to know if they’re credible. Stop this! I’m just trying to help friends and families as well as Parisian hospitals in their searches. Thank you.”

Administrators of two similar accounts on Facebook (one of whom is only 15 years old) told FRANCE 24 that, as far as they knew, they had not been sent any fake appeals. However, they admitted that they didn’t know how to verify them. Before confirming anyone was deceased, however, they checked to see whether the media had reported their names.

Errors in victims’ bios

While they’re grappling with loss, some victims’ loved ones have also had to fight to rectify false information.

As his brother explains in the video below, Ludovic Boumbas, 40, was killed by terrorists outside the restaurant La Belle Equipe. Of Congolese roots, this French national grew up in Lille before moving to Paris, where he worked as a computer engineer. However, a very different biography spread on social networks in the days following his death. His photo was shared with a text explaining that he was an Ivorian national who had worked as a security guard at the Bataclan.



Posted by on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The partner of Yannick Minvielle, who was with him at the Bataclan when he was killed, is also fighting against rumours. The British newspaper Evening Standard published an article (which has since been taken offline) describing him as a “hero” because, according to a friend who was not at the Bataclan that night, he jumped in front of his partner to protect her from the terrorists.

His partner, through a lawyer, explained that this story was just a rumour. She has not yet given her version of what happened, but her lawyer stressed that false rumours are extremely difficult for survivors to hear.