The fake news swirling around the Westminster attack


Fake news has been swirling on social media in the wake of Wednesday's terrorist attack in London. We look at the stories that have been debunked.

Worried relatives? No, just a Mexican

journalist being harassed

The photo of a woman with red hair was posted on Twitter with a plea from her 'boyfriend' or 'relative' desperate to have confirmation that she was safe.

Here are two examples of the kinds of tweets that were sent out using photos of the journalist.

But the woman in the photos isn't a student in London – it's actually Tamara de Anda, a Mexican journalist and blogger.  [CORRECTION: the original version of this article stated incorrectly that de Anda works at the New York Times en Espanol. While she has been interviewed by the New York Times she does not work there.]

When the FRANCE 24 Observers team contacted her on Twitter, she explained what was happening.

These are professional trolls that attack women, journalists and activists. They are posting these photos of me because they're angry about a complaint I filed against a Mexican taxi driver last Wednesday, who whistled at me and shouted, "Eh, guapa" [Literally, "Hey, beautiful!"]. I wrote about it on my blog on Thursday, and people are talking about street harassment again. Since then, it has been blanket coverage in the media. That day, I received death and rape threats. Now, the aggression from trolls has spread and I've been receiving a lot of virtual threats from flesh-and-blood 'machos'. Sadly I've got used to this shit. I've reported it to Twitter - they say it's something pretty common.

If the Mexican trolls were worried about where she was, they only had to look at the Facebook page of one of the most well-known publications in the world. While the photos were being passed on to Twitter, the journalist was actually in the middle of a Facebook live for the New York Times.

And this isn't the first time that Mexican social media users have used a major incident to get their own back on someone...  

>> Read on The Observers: Who is this man who seems to die in every terrorist attack?

That photo of the attacker? Just an internet joke

A photo of a man posing with a sword in front of the Confederate flag was also posted on Twitter with the #Westminster hashtag, alleging that he was the attacker. The Confederate flag is considered a white supremacist symbol, notably in the southern states of the United States. 

This man has been the butt of many jokes since July 2016, particularly on the Internet forum 4chan. A tweet ridiculing the man, who seems to be of Asian origin, for being a white supremacist was retweeted 4,273 times.

He is not the only person to have been framed as the attacker. As in the mass shooting in Grasse in France on March 16, and in previous international incidents, a photo of the comedian Sam Hyde was circulated along with allegations that he was the attacker.

A cup of tea and a message of defiance

Pluck, a stiff upper lip and a cup of tea - that's what Britain's all about, eh? The whiteboard signs up in London's Tube stations are meant to warn commuters about cancellations and delays on the underground. And they do... Most of the time. They've also become famous for serving as a pithy way of cheering up gloomy Londoners - and sometimes delivering a heartwarming or defiant message.

A tube sign "politely" informing terrorists that London will "drink tea" and "carry on" went viral on Twitter the day after the attack.

However, the Tube sign is actually fake and was never written by a Tube worker. It was created using a website that can generate a custom photo of a Tube sign, replicating the TfL noticeboard.

The tone of politely restrained defiance clearly struck a chord, however, and the sign was shared by journalists and an MP on Twitter, and even read out in the House of Commons.

Prime Minister Theresa May called it "a wonderful tribute" that "encapsulated everything everbody in this House has said today."

Tea and perseverance in the face of adversity seems to be a sentiment we can all get behind.

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