Four ways to verify images linked to France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ protests

The Yellow Vests protest movement has been the target of its fair share of disinformation, from all directions. Here are some tips to avoid being deceived.
The Yellow Vests protest movement has been the target of its fair share of disinformation, from all directions. Here are some tips to avoid being deceived.

Since mid-November, the “Gilets jaunes” (or “Yellow Vests”) movement has been making the headlines in France, both on the mainland and in the overseas territories. The movement started as a protest against a rise in taxes on diesel, but it has come to reflect a more generalised anger, which has resulted in diverse demonstrations. Of the many Yellow Vest photos and videos that people are sharing online, some are false – they do not actually show this new protest movement. These cases provide a good opportunity to look at some techniques you can use to tell the real from the fake.

The Yellow Vests organised two days of protests on November 17 and 24, bringing together 281,710 and 106,301 people respectively all over France, according to the Interior Minister’s official figures. The protesters say the real figures are much higher, and many people online have used false images, with the aim of magnifying the movement’s impact or of arousing indignation.


1. Use reverse image search

On November 20, a Yellow Vests supporter shared a series of photos online, without any comment, showing several people with bleeding faces.

With any image of this sort, the first thing to do is verify its origin by doing a reverse image search. There are several free tools that can be used to do this: Google Images, TinEye, Yandex (see our recap here) and some apps allow you to do the same thing on a smartphone (see how to do this here).

A reverse image search of these pictures posted on Facebook quickly reveals that the photo of the bleeding young woman was taken in Spain on July 11, 2012, during a coalminers’ protest.

The photo on the top left of the Facebook post can be found on this page, where the caption indicates it was at a demonstration in Madrid on July 11, 2012.


It is the same with this picture of a woman in her sixties, also taken in Spain, but at the protests for the independence referendum in Catalonia in 2017.

The photo of this 64-year-old woman is listed as being from the protests on September 11, 2017 in Catalonia. The French newspaper Libération related the woman’s story.


The other photos were indeed taken at Yellow Vests protests, showing that not everything in this post is false. However, mixing real and false information is a classic way of creating confusion.

Nonetheless, it is true that there has been violence at several of the Yellow Vests protests. On November 24, a young man’s hand was blown off by a sting-ball grenade on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.


2. Study the video in detail before sharing it

A post was published on November 2 with a video that supposedly showed the Yellow Vests entering the Élysée Palace, the French presidential residence. The footage circulated mainly on Facebook’s Messenger application.

If a video appears to be recent, rather than using video tools that can be somewhat complex, you can try using the best tool available to you: your eyes.

By studying the details of the video, as our counterparts at AFP Factuel explain, it is possible to see that what is written on the front of the building the Yellow Vests are entering reads “Prefecture of the Aube” (police headquarters in the French department of the Aube).

In this post, which spread the rumour, it can clearly be seen, at 1:40 in the video, the sign “[préfe]cture de l’Aube”.


The incident did not take place at the Élysée Palace but in front of the Prefecture of the Aube in the city of Troyes, where protests were held on November 17, as this article from local TV station Canal 32 explains.

The Yellow Vests did try to reach the Élysée Palace on November 17, but unsuccessfully.


3. Check the date

On November 17, a video emerged showing Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron dancing with the caption “While France struggles”. On the first day of the Yellow Vests protests in France, the image of the French head of state in festive spirits with his wife caused anger among people online. The video had been viewed 5 million times by November 27.

But every video needs to be viewed in context.

Using InVid, a tool that allows you to find the origin of a video online (click here to learn more), you can quickly see that this video surfaced in posts in October – that is, well before the Yellow Vests movement started.

The video was actually filmed on October 11 in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, where a meeting of the International Organisation of the Francophonie was taking place. Emmanuel Macron and his wife were there and danced alongside other guests to traditional Armenian music.

An article on this ceremony was published on BFMTV’s website on October 12.


4. Check the exact context

On November 24, a screen grab showing a man wearing a yellow vest supposedly performing a Nazi salute in front of BFMTV cameras was shared on Twitter by users generally supportive of president Emmanuel Macron.

One particular person who shared the screen grab was Naïma Moutchou, a member of parliament for Val d’Oise and a member of Macron’s La République en Marche party, as well as also a rapporteur for France’s law against fake news. She has since deleted her tweet.


Tweet posted by Naïma Moutchou, member of parliament, since deleted.


Taken on its own, the screen grab can be confusing. Before passing on information like this, it is best to check in what context it was made. As our counterparts at France 2 showed, in the initial sequence, the man is shouting “Avé Macron” ("Avé" is the Roman word for "hail") as he does the gesture.

Want more tips? Check out our verification guide by clicking on the image below.