How do fake stories about migrants spread across Europe?

Screengrab of our show.
Screengrab of our show.

The FRANCE 24 Observers teamed up with Turkish journalist Gülin Çavuş, who works with the fact-checking website Teyit, to launch a project studying fake stories about migrants that are circulating online in Europe.

There are many negative stereotypes about migrants; they are often associated with criminality or terrorist activities. Many of these stereotypes are based on false information and fake images that are widely shared on social media. They are also published in certain blogs and, sometimes, even propagated by politicians.

The aim of our study was to analyse the fake information about migrants and refugees that is spread around the world, particularly in Europe. We wanted to examine the extent to which these fake stories are circulated and their impact.

READ OUR INVESTIGATION: How fake images spread racist stereotypes about migrants across the globe

In our show, Çavuş talks about the results of this research.​​​​​​


Liselotte Mas, a FRANCE 24 Observers journalist, worked with Turkish journalist Çavuş on this project. She discusses the project's initial findings.

"Those who spread this fake news differ in their political leanings from country to country"

I noticed during our research that those who spread this fake news have very different political leanings. In Turkey, the people who feed into this misinformation aren’t the most conservative or the most nationalist, as is the case in France.

More often than not, the people who spread disinformation in Turkey are opposition sympathisers, secularists and progressives who see the influx of Syrians as a political tool used by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They accuse the Turkish president of making it easy for these Syrians to get citizenship as a means of getting future party supporters and voters.

But like the far right in France, they also share a lot of false of information about the supposed “privileges” that foreigners get in terms of state aid – which they believe puts Turkish citizens at a disadvantage.

"False information doesn’t necessarily go viral in the country that the event supposedly occurred in”

There is a considerable amount of false information about migrants – and, of course, we weren’t even able to identify all the stories circulating. It was interesting to see that examples of fake news that we studied didn’t necessarily go viral in the countries where the event was supposed to have taken place. For example, fake news events that supposedly took place in Germany (21%) or Sweden (13%) went viral in other countries, often the United States or France.

There are a few different hypotheses that could explain this phenomenon. What seems most likely is that Germany or Sweden were described in the media as examples of countries that were welcoming and open to the arrival of migrants. The people who spread this fake news wanted to make others think that welcoming migrants wasn’t actually working out well for these countries.