Our top five debunked fake news stories from 2016


A Mexican who died on three separate occasions, the woman who was beaten up for supporting Trump, misappropriated images coming out of the war in Syria... 2016 has seen a lot of fake news. We look back at the year's top five stories that we debunked.

Woman attacked for supporting Trump

The 2016 US election seemed to bring out the fake news trolls like never before. This story first exploded across the internet in June of this year after a Facebook post showing a woman injured and bloody — after allegedly being beaten up for supporting Trump — was shared over 30,000 times.

Except that the photo was first posted to Instagram by the victim herself, Australian actress Samara Weaving, who actually wanted to show off the "amazing make up" from the shoot of zombie-comedy TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead.

READ OUR ARTICLE: DEBUNKED: Trump supporters share photo of battered woman… but it’s a fake

The Mexican who died at several terrorist attacks

The photo of one man kept popping up over the past year at every major drama, whether it was a terrorist attack, an accident or a police shooting. The Observers team at FRANCE 24 first came across his picture after the EgyptAir plane crash in May, when internet users claimed he was on board the flight.

After that, he died again in the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in the United States on June 12, even appearing in a New York Times video that commemorated the victims. Then his photo was posted on Twitter after the shooting at  Istanbul's Atatürk airport on June 28.

Screengrab of a tweet published on Tuesday, June 28, after the shooting in an Istanbul airport.

We wanted to get to the bottom of who this mysterious (and unlucky) person was, so we investigated further. And we found out that he is alive and well.

All of the posts with him in them came from internet users based in Mexico. When FRANCE 24 got in touch with them, they all said the same thing: that he'd cheated them out of money and they were punishing him for it. We managed to speak to the man in question, and he didn't deny being caught up in legal disputes, but he said it was an elaborate "prank".

READ OUR ARTICLE: Who is this man who seems to die in every terrorist attack?

 An Israeli "superwoman"? 


CCTV footage from a bar in Israel made the rounds on social media in February. In the video, you can see a young woman being sexually harassed by a group of men before she gets her own back, in a kick-ass way.

The video was first published by the fighting superstar herself, Gili Ganani, 19, who has a black belt in Krav Maga. The post, written in Hebrew, was then republished on February 29 by another Facebook user who added a caption in English. This version of the video was seen over 8 million times.

However, the video was actually an advert for the martial arts teacher who taught Ganani. Ganani later admitted that the whole thing was staged.

This is one of many examples of videos created for the express purpose of going viral, allowing companies to reach a larger audience in a more authentic way.

READ OUR ARTICLE: 'Israeli superwoman' video goes viral, but not all is as it seems

Russian media accuse migrants of rape with a fake video

On January 11, a German-Russian teenager went to the police in Berlin, Germany, claiming that she had been kidnapped and raped by migrants. The police confirmed that she had disappeared for a period of 30 hours, but she was found to have contradictory stories when questioned. On January 18, the Berlin police stated that there had been no kidnapping, nor rape.

But the story caused quite the diplomatic stir between Russia and Germany, with the Russian minister for foreign affairs Sergueï Lavrov accusing Berlin of hiding information on the case. A journalist for Perviy Kanal, Russia's main television channel, published a video to prove that there had, in fact, been a rape.

The video comes on from 3'30 in this report broadcast on Perviy Kanal on January 16.

In this clip, several men film themselves with a mobile phone and explain in German that they "raped a young virgin girl". But a quick search on YouTube proves that the video was published in September 2009, with the title "Turkish men talk openly about rape".

Nearly a year later, not one of the Russian media that broadcast the video has published an apology or correction, and the reports can still be found on their websites.

READ OUR ARTICLE: Alleged rape in Berlin: Russian TV uses fake video to accuse migrants

The photo of the "Syrian Mona Lisa" is fake

At the beginning of January 2016, a social media campaign to help people living in Madaya, a Syrian town near the border with Lebanon, was in full swing. The town had been under siege from Bachar al-Assad's forces and the Lebanese Hezbollah for six months, and the town was on the brink of famine.

A wave of photos allegedly showing children in Madaya suffering from malnutrition emerged, including the image of a little girl with big blue eyes next to a picture of a skeletal child. The two juxtaposed images were captioned: "The Syrian Mona Lisa is dying of hunger!"

Appeal for donations for the people living in Madaya, posted on the Facebook page of the Council of Muslim ulemas.

However, the blue-eyed little girl is called Marina Mazeh and comes from the village of Tyr in the south of Lebanon, and has nothing to do with the humanitarian catastrophe of Madaya.

It wasn't the first time that Marina's photo had been misappropriated. In January 2014, a picture of her circulated online with the claim that she was a Syrian refugee selling chewing gum in a refugee camp in Jordan.

READ OUR ARTICLE: Debunked: People in Madaya are starving, but this photo is fake

To be able to spot what's fact and what's fiction, read our guide to verifying images online.